Tuesday, January 28, 2014

From Vegas to Macau

For F*** Magazine

Director: Wong Jing
Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Nicholas Tse, Chapman To, Jing Tian, Gao Hu, Annie Wu, Michael Wong, Max Zhang, Philip Ng, Meng Yao
Genre: Comedy, Action
Run Time: 94 mins
Opens: 30 January 2014
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language And Violence)

Chinese New Year has rolled around again, and “luck” and “prosperity” are the operating words, many taking the season to hit the tables. Writer-director Wong Jing re-teams with star Chow Yun Fat for From Vegas to Macau, a kinda-sorta fourth entry in the God of Gamblers film series. The title is a misnomer as there are no globe-trotting hijinks and none of the film is set in Vegas. It is mostly set in Macau so the title isn’t a total bamboozle. Still, our advice is to keep away from this gambling den and do something more worthwhile with your hongbao money.

Benz (Hui), his son Cool (Tse) and buffoonish nephew Karl (To) operate as self-proclaimed Robin Hoods of the Hong Kong underworld, tripping up and humiliating criminals. Benz receives a call from his old friend, master con artist and gifted gambler Master Ken (Chow), who has left behind his life of crime to become a security consultant for casinos in Vegas. Master Ken invites Benz, Cool and Karl to Macau, both Cool and Karl falling for his daughter Rainbow (Tong). In the meantime, Cool’s half-brother Lionel (Ng) and his police partner Luo Xin (Jing) are undercover, attempting to unravel a match-fixing conspiracy. The mastermind is Mr. Ko (Gao), the head of the D.O.A. foundation, which is really a front for a money-laundering syndicate. The police goes to Master Ken for help, and Mr. Ko puts out a hit on Ken, sending assassin Ghost Eyes (Zhang) after the gambler. Benz, Cool, Karl and Ken’s beloved daughter soon find themselves in danger too, Master Ken having to summon all his skills to defeat Mr. Ko.

“Now ev’ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin'/Is knowin' what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep,” so sang Kenny Rogers. There’s a lot in From Vegas to Macau that should have been thrown away, and wasn’t. This is a crime caper forcefully injected with an overdose of mo lei tau (nonsense talk); the humour broad, aggressive and mostly painfully unfunny. It’s a loud, brash assault on the senses, from the unnecessary stylistic flourishes to the cartoon sound effects to the gross-out sight gags. The film wants us to care about a treacherous criminal scheme and root for the protagonists to put an end to it, but the gags and pratfalls are so boorishly unsophisticated that they completely undermine any drama or tension and render the stakes null.

The “it’s a comedy! It’s supposed to be goofy!” defence will eventually pop up, so allow us to say this: the tone that would work best given the premise is something along the lines of the Ocean’s Eleven reboot series: sharp, wry, occasionally quite silly but never insultingly so. Here, Chapman To makes so many references to his genitals we probably could draw them, but would rather not. The D.O.A. assembly, with its national stereotypes, recalls the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. organization from the old Bond flicks and the distasteful handling of female characters is even more misogynistic here than in those films. There’s a racist jibe and a fat joke literally within two seconds of each other – it’s more casually offensive than it is intentionally un-PC, but in some ways, that makes the tone of the jokes worse.

There are some ideas and sequences which manage to be mildly amusing or fairly thrilling. Philip Ng, a skilled martial artist, has a fight scene in the D.O.A. offices which ends with him bailing out by way of BASE jump. However, most of the stuff is derivative – the “bungee ballet” performed in the mansion hall by Kimmy Tong is lifted directly from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Said mansion is also bizarrely booby-trapped: motorised suits of armour function as a home security system and full-sized antique cannons magically pop out of the floor. It’s something you’d expect to find in a Scooby Doo cartoon. And yes, there are the showy displays of card-shuffling skill, where it’s constantly and painfully obvious that those are computer-generated clubs, spades, diamonds and hearts.

Chow Yun Fat is likeable, charismatic and charming rather than brooding and badass, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s forced to make a fool of himself, engaging in not one but two cringe worthy musical numbers, but the guy is cool no matter what and at least he looks like he’s having fun. His Master Ken character is given such ludicrous abilities that it seems more like sorcery than sleight of hand. He can perfectly duplicate the sound of gunfire with nothing but his voice and there’s a scene in which he magically extracts truth serum from a glass of wine, as if it was some kind of spell. Nicholas Tse is a serviceable straight man, mercifully spared from having to ham it up alongside his cast-mates.

Watch this movie and you’ll find that Chapman To’s Karl will become the annoying comic relief sidekick you think of whenever the phrase “annoying comic relief sidekick” is uttered. He provides little comedy and zero relief and his grating tomfoolery is so pervasive it gives Jar Jar Binks and Ruby Rhod a run for their money. Yes, we went there. Jing Tian has become a hot property in the Hong Kong and China film industry and while it looks like her character is a capable policewoman, it’s not long before she’s compromised by truth serum and ends up thoroughly embarrassing herself in front of Ken. Kimmy Tong’s turn as flighty heiress Rainbow is pretty inconsequential; she’s depicted being able to fend for herself but is promptly put in jeopardy during the climax. At least Max Zhang’s pretty cool as the deadly killer henchman.

Wong Jing has been very open about his contempt for critics, and the self-referential, self-aggrandizing “meta” jokes in From Vegas to Macau will not help his case. Apropos of nothing, Karl exclaims “I love Wong Jing!” and the director ends up being integral to pulling off the final gambit. For something clearly intended as a crowd-pleasing Chinese New Year blockbuster, this reviewer found From Vegas to Macau alienating and annoying, too aimlessly madcap to entertain. Stick around during the end credits for a stinger scene, featuring a cameo that…huh? How does that even work?!

Summary: For the love of the god of gamblers, please go blow on somebody else’s dice. From Vegas to Macau to the rubbish heap.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong


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