From Vegas To Macau aka The Man From Macau (Ao Men feng yun)

Hong Kong (2014) Dir. Wong Jing

The Chinese New Year brings with it many traditional celebratory festivities and in the cinema world this time of year is when a number of lavish comedies are unleashed to further the joyous mood. One regular contributor is the prolific writer/director Wong Jing who this year revisited one of his earliest glories for his entry.

A family of modern day Robin Hoods – father Benz (Benz Hui), his son Cool (Nicholas Tse) and nephew Karl (Chapman To) – ambush rich loan sharks and criminals to pay for the cancer treatment for Mrs. Benz (Bonnie Wong). Meanwhile Benz’s other son Lionel (Phillip Ng) is working undercover to bust a money laundering racket run by nefarious mainland tycoon Mr. Ko (Gao Hu) behind the doors of his DOA company but is found out and killed. After reconnecting with his old mate Ken (Chow Yun Fat) aka “Magic Hands” the trio become involved in an international incident when Ken is asked by mainland police detective Lorraine Lok (Jing Tian), who has also infiltrated Ko’s company, persuades Ken to challenge and beat Ko in a high stakes game of cards in the hope he will expose himself as the crook he is.

Back in 1989 God Of Gamblers was a big hit for Wong Jing and Chow Yun Fat, the latter proving his worth in comedy after previously making his name in John Woo’s violent crime thrillers. Two sequels were spawned and now twenty five years later, Wong revisits the gambling genre, reuniting him with Chow for what is a modern update on the theme rather than a direct relation to the previous films.

The above plot summary covers only part of the story – the “serious” part if you will – while the remainder is pure OTT comedy fluff. When the Benz clan arrive in Macau for Ken’s extravagant birthday bash Karl falls for Ken’s vivacious daughter Rainbow (Kimmy Tong) while Cool is more impressed with Ken’s card skills and wants him to train him in said art. Despite his best efforts to woo Rainbow, Karl is dismayed to learn that she fancies Cool instead who barely notices her (god knows how though!).

Back to the main story and Ko is a ruthless chap who will stop at nothing to protect his business dealings hiring a skilled assassin (Zhang Jin) to wipe out anyone who poses a threat. Before he was killed Lionel was able to hide a camera he had surgically implanted into his eye into the eye of a stuffed teddy bear. That bear ends up a raffle prize at Ken’s party which Rainbow wants and Cool (with a little malfeasance for Ken) wins it for her which she takes as a sign of affection. Soon Ko finds out about this and the whole family is now in danger.

Say what you want about Wong Jing but he knows how to pack a lot into his scripts although that doesn’t necessarily translate into a successful film. However Wong seems very aware that this isn’t a film that will be regarded as high art thus he allows himself to have some fun, even if the end result is preposterous and illogical with plot holes galore. It would also appear that the cinema goers of Hong Kong and China didn’t care either as this film did mega business at the box office leading to the inevitable sequel due next year.

The gambling action which should draw many to this film is actually downplayed, with just three games played, while various visual references are reduced to being a mere leitmotif – such as Ken’s weapon of choice being a pack of razor sharp gold cards. With technology such as it is, Wong gives us many visually stunning but purposely gratuitous set pieces, either for humour or action, to show off some CGI silliness. He can’t even spare the craps tables from it when the dice is rolled and two animated cubes bounce across the long desk in gravity defying fashion!

It should therefore come as little surprise that aesthetic over substance is the main objective here, with a largely attractive young cast to please both sexes on display, often in swimwear. Unfortunately this extends to the two main female leads who, despite one being a tough police detective, are helpless eye candy most of the time, looking nothing less than gorgeous even in the face of danger.

For Chow Yun Fat one can only assume he either owed Wong Jing a favour or he fancied a break from historical epics when he accepted this role as the script is quite beneath someone of his calibre. That said he throws himself into the role of Ken and doesn’t seem to mind looking the fool in some of the sillier scenes. However while Chow is pushing 60 and is dressed as such, he is made up to look younger to keep the ladies happy and make his relationship with the younger assistant Susan (Annie Wu) somewhat more palatable.

Chapman To is his usually silly self and handles the bulk of the comedy with most of his scenes feeling like Family Guy-esque non-sequiturs; in contrast to Nicholas Tse who comes across as bored as Cool, even when fighting Zhang Jin in a short but enjoyable martial arts fight near the end. As much as he tries Gao Hu is unable to bring the mood down as the villainous Mr. Ko but he shows potential should the chances arise to play the antagonist in a serious thriller.

Despite its brief 89 run time From Vegas To Macau amazingly feels a little bloated but at least is never dull – silly, over-the-top and shamelessly glossy, yes but never dull. The best advice is not to take it seriously, like a pantomime, and this cheeky, often puerile, slice of mad cap confection is easier to swallow.

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