Monday, November 10, 2014

HK Cinema at SFFS ’14: From Vegas to Macau

Chow Yun-fat is one of the biggest Hong Kong movie stars ever, especially when he plays a gambler. His latest Mr. Lucky character is quite a team player, assisting the Hong Kong, Chinese, and Macanese police take down an international money launderer. However, it might suddenly become difficult to watch on the Mainland following Chow’s statement of support for Hong Kong’s intrepid pro-democracy protestors. Even if he is banned in Chinese cinemas, Chow is an icon of HK cinema, perhaps even more so now. Fittingly, his latest gambling romp, Wong Jing’s From Vegas to Macau (trailer here), opens the San Francisco Film Society’s annual Hong Kong Cinema film series.

“Magic Hands” Ken is a reportedly unbeatable gambler and former Vegas casino security expert who has just made a splashy return to Macau. He invites his old crony Benz, the patriarch of a family of conmen, to his lavish birthday partner. Sparks soon fly between Ken’s daughter Rainbow and Benz’s son cool, despite nephew Karl’s awkward attempts at seduction.

Unfortunately, Benz’s undercover cop stepson Lionel’s cover is about to be blown. He was investigating the shadowy Mr. Ko, whose henchmen are now looking for the evidence he furtively recorded. That will bring them into conflict with Benz’s family and Magic Hands, in due turn. Naturally, he prefers to handle such matters alone, but he will start to coordinate somewhat with Lionel’s Chinese colleague, Det. Luo Xin, for obvious reasons.

In FVTM, Chow is a lot like vintage Burt Reynolds. He is having fun and he does not care how we take that. He still looks great in a tux, so more power to him. He definitely does his ring-a-ding-ding Rat Pack thing, leaving most of the fighting to Nicholas Tse’s brooding Cool. Tse doesn’t mug—period. However, Chow’s larger than life presence still provides the film’s jet fuel.

Jing Tian shows off her first class chops again as Luo Xin, but does not have the same featured spotlight that let her elevate Special I.D. above its functional ambitions. She makes an impression nonetheless as the hard-charging detective. While most of the comedy is broad but digestible, Chapman To gets a wee bit shticky as Karl, but he has also been rather outspoken in his support of the democracy movement, so we’ll give him a pass anyway.

Wong keeps the mood upbeat and the action skipping along, even though some pretty terrible tribulations befall several supporting characters. He also gives enough winking allusions to the God of Gamblers franchise to keep fans amused, before formally joining them together in a Marvel-style denouement.

FVTM certainly delivers the expected quota of action, slapstick, high living, and attractive cast members. Frankly, it ought to be an utterly apolitical film, but given the predictable invective aimed at Chow, patrons can feel strangely good about enjoying it. Recommended for fans of Chow and gambling/con game films, From Vegas to Macau opens the SFFS’s 2014 Hong Kong Cinema showcase this Friday (11/14) and screens again on Saturday (11/15).