Wong Jing’s 2014 gambling comedy is nothing but snake eyes from start to finish.
“Godzilla is peeing!”
Boy, gambling movies sure are popular in Hong Kong, aren’t they? It’s so popular it even has its own subsection on Wikipedia (and probably on Netflix if you search hard enough) but that said with a few notable exceptions they all seem to stem from a single movie: Wong Jing’s 1989 crime comedy God of Gamblers. Released at the same time as Casino Raiders, another gambling movie also starring Andy Lau, it seemed to trigger something in HK audiences, and they have been going crazy for casino-related shenanigans ever since.
From Vegas to Macau is another film by God-of-Gambling-Themed-Movies Wong Jing and is set in the same shared universe as the others in his series, though only in passing. It tells the story of Cool (Nicholas Tse), his father Benz (Benz Hui, in the second disappointing movie I’ve seen him in in five weeks) and cousin Ngau (Chapman To) who are con artists with a Robin Hood flair. They’ve been paying Cool’s mother’s hospital bills with the money, although her stepson Lionel, a cop, disapproves.
One day, they’re called in to Macau to meet with “Magic Hand” Ken (Chow Yun-fat looking shockingly skinny), a pro gambler and possibly casino owner, I really don’t remember. Weirdly, he doesn’t call them in for a job or anything, just to hang out. So it’s lucky then that Lionel is currently working undercover for crime boss Mr Ko (Gao Hu), but when he is discovered, Ken is approached by several police forces and asked to take the man down himself. Also, the main characters happen to be around.
If this summary of the story sounded weird and all over the place, that’s because that’s how it is during the movie. I mentioned how the people introduced as the main characters do nothing to move the story forward, and just happen to be around when Ken – who usurps the movie once the second act starts – is asked to just sort of humiliate Ko. This is the biggest problem with the movie: nothing is clear, and none of the characters make any sense. The story is an afterthought, which wouldn’t be terrible if they had structured it around a bunch of awesome set pieces, but they didn’t. The stuff that isn’t the main story is just Chapman To making dumb jokes, or Benz Hui eating trash.
I wanted to like From Vegas to Macau, I really did. God of Gamblers was a pretty solid comedy (though I haven’t seen any of the sequels), so I had fairly high hopes for this spin-off. The opening credits, and the establishing shots promise us a flashy, glitzy film about high-profile criminals scamming their way from Vegas to Macau. What we got instead was a nonsensical plot that gave up on its main characters as soon as Chow Yun-fat was introduced, and very little of anything else.
I wasn’t crazy about the 2012 Korean caper film The Thieves but at least it gave us what it promised: crime action, casino heists and a tonne of set-pieces set in a number of awesome locations. From Vegas to Macau is unsure what it wants to be, who it wants to focus on, or what the central conflict is and suffers massively because of it. It’s like Wong Jing had a lot of great ideas, but somewhere between pre-production and release, a lot got left out. Maybe the original draft was good, but the finished product lacks so much cohesion that you’re left wondering if you fell asleep midway through and missed a bunch of scenes. I don’t know, maybe I did.
The movie’s only real saving grace is that the main stars all do their absolute best. Chow Yun-fat cranks up his natural charms way beyond what is probably expected of him, Nicholas Tse finds a great balance between dorky and cool and Chapman To and Benz Hui just sort of do their regular shtick, and do it well. The female side characters start to all sort of blend into one, and there’s little substance to them, but the tough Chinese Mainland cop was excellent. Everyone starts one arc, yet somehow end up concluding another arc altogether.
Ultimately, there are better movies that cover the bases From Vegas to Macau covers. Crime comedies are a dime a dozen in Hong Kong, and they’re all going to feature great performances from at least one of the main actors in this film, as well as contain a good handful of beautiful aerial shots of the city. You want a good Chapman To Macau comedy? SDU isn’t perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than this. You want a fun Chow Yun Fat casino movie? God of Gamblers. There’s nothing that this movie does that’s better than its peers, so it’s probably not worth checking out.
Verdict: From Vegas to Macau takes all the worst tropes in Hong Kong comedies, and stitches them together to make a big heaping pile of crap.
Overall entertainment: 2/10
Sex: Would have improved this movie greatly.
Violence: Some half-decent martial arts.
Gambling: Surprisingly little.
Vegas: 0. Not a single shot of Vegas.
English acting: Eh, I’ve seen worse.
Magic Hands: Literally magic. What was with that drink thing he did?
Sequels: A review for part two says “the result is a noticeable step down in quality from last year’s offering” so that should be fun.
From Vegas to Macau (2014)
Also known as: 賭城風雲, or The Man From Macau (Chinese: 澳門風雲)
Director: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Chow Yun-fat – Ken and Ko Chun”
Nicholas Tse – Cool
Chapman To – Ngau-Ngau
Jing Tian – Detective Luo Xin
Kimmy Tong – Rainbow
Philip Ng – Lionel
Gao Hu – Mr. Ko
Annie Wu – Susan
Benz Hui – Benz
Zhang Jin – DOA’s bodyguard/assassin
Michael Wong – Detective
Sammy Sum – Ken’s enforcer
Tony Ho – Mr. Ko’s enforcer
Maria Cordero – Siu Wan
Wong Man-wai – Benz’s wife
Philip Keung – Ma Sheung-fat
Winnie Leung – Mr. Ko’s female enforcer
Candy Yuen – Mr. Ko’s female enforcer
May Chan – Ken’s cousin
Wong Chun-tong – Brother Man
Yu Chi-ming – Uncle Wah
Natalie Meng – Ngau-Ngau’s fake wife
Michelle Hu – Mr. Ko’s female enforcer
Philippe Joly – Mr. Ko’s American delegate