A group of people come together thanks to the lottery in Dustin Nguyen’s unassuming comedy.
“Stupid and kind are the same these days.”
Money turns good people bad. The theme is universal, found in countless stories and is almost a cliché in films about the acquisition of wealth – just watch Wall Street or The Wolf of Wall Street or (I assume) movies that don’t have Wall Street in the title. Other times, the story is possibly trying to teach us that money isn’t everything, and that the friends and family we have are worth more. My point is that when films are about people coming into money, it’s probably something. Dustin Nyugen’s 2015 comedy Jackpot is … well, it almost is?
Jackpot is about three things at any given time. The first is about young lottery ticket seller Thom (Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc), who is just way too nice to everyone around her, and struggles to make ends meet and look after her daughter. The second is about Tu Phi (Chi Tai), a politician who has just come out of prison after a decade, having been wrongfully arrested for fraud. He tries to pick up his life, and purchases a winning lottery ticket, which leads him to make terrible decisions after he wins all of about three hundred thousand pounds. Lastly is the story of married couple Tu Nghai (director Dustin Nguyen) and Chin Cuc (Thu Trang), who spend a lot of their income on Thom’s lottery tickets and who have an occasionally strained relationship, but are otherwise fine.
There’s not a lot of depth to any of them, and when drama happens it tends to be out of nowhere – except for the culmination of Tu Phi’s story. Jackpot is more a collection of vignettes than a proper story but unlike something like Under the Sky of Seoul, it doesn’t seem to be aware of this and tries very hard to act like one complex, interweaving narrative. Unfortunately, it never quite hits those heights. Things just sort of happen, punctuated by gags and occasionally out-of-nowhere drama. I’m reminded of The Holy Man, which was also a similarly-paced movie that just sort of plodded along with no real hurry to get to its destination.
Interestingly, this attitude also turns out to be its biggest charm. If it had tried hard to hammer in a message (we see Nghia and Cuc’s marriage fall apart briefly at the prospect of winning the lottery, for example), it probably would have come off as forced and unpleasant. Instead, while it knows that gambling (even in something like the lottery) isn’t without its share of problems and risks, it isn’t here to preach about the dangers of it. It’s content just existing, showcasing some cheerful actors with good chemistry play off each other as they come and go from each other’s stories like an extended sitcom episode.
I don’t have a tonne to say about this. Dustin Nguyen, despite directing only in Vietnam, has made a name for himself acting in Hollywood stuff since the 80s, but I’m not sure how – if at all – this plays into the film. Is it trying to say something about gambling culture in Vietnam? Maybe, but without doing much research it’s impossible to tell, which isn’t a great sign when it comes to satire. Instead, I’ll grade it for what I saw it as: a simple collection of stories about people trying to strike it rich all while looking out for each other. And for that, it by and large succeeds. Everyone is charming, especially Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc whose smile is the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time, and the tone of the whole thing is never dour. You’ll hardly be getting a big payout while watching Jackpot, but at least you’re not gambling too much either.
Verdict: Like its modest main characters, Jackpot is perfectly happy just doing its own thing.
(Oh – if you’re deciding to watch this based on the many plot summaries that say it’s about someone deciding whether to keep a winning ticket to themselves, the film doesn’t touch upon that until the final ten minutes.)
Overall entertainment: 6/10
Sex: 0/10. They won’t even mention it by name.
Fortune telling: Seems pretty easy, really
Fat Jokes: There’s always one, isn’t there?
Rapey Dudes: At least his scenes are kept brief
Cute smiles: 10/10
Also known as: Trúng số
Director: Dustin Nguyen
Writer: Manh Tuan, Nguyen
Ninh Duong Lan Ngoc – Thom
Dustin Nguyen – Tu Nghia
Chi Tai – Tu Phi
Thu Trang – Chin Cuc
Kim Xuan – Mrs Muoi
Thanh Binh – Dong
Phi Thanh Van – Huong