Chow Yun Fat is Ko Chun, the invincible God of Gamblers. A freak accident results in amnesia, but leaves his supernatural skills unscathed. Unaware of his true identity, small time hustler Andy Lau sets out to explore Chow's talents on Hong Kong's notorious gambling circuit, only to find himself the target of viscious gangsters hell-bent on eliminating them both and usurping Ko Chun's crown.
Back in the early days when I was getting more into Hong Kong cinema, after I started to branch out on the type of films I watched, I pretty much only knew of Chow Yun Fat from two roles, Tequila in Hard Boiled and Ko Chun in God Of Gamblers (although back then I didn't know he was called Ko Chun). The reason for this is because those are roles where he is the suave, cool guy who seems to be able to do very little wrong. Tequila was the kick ass 'God' with the gun, whereas in this film he was a 'God' with cards (and a rather dab hand with the gun too). They are the characters that make films more interesting and exciting and ultimately more memorable for the viewer.
God Of Gamblers is a rather disjointed film in that it seems to comprise of two completely different style films, both revolving around gambling, which happen to cross paths near the beginning and again near the end of the film. The mood of the film is drastically different in each of these parts and in all honestly, one of the parts is a lot better and more entertaining than the other. What I am referring to are the scenes revolving around Chow Yun Fat when he is the God of Gamblers and the scenes where Chow Yun Fat is Chocolate. To understand what I'm meaning without having seen the film requires a mild spoiler. It is nothing major and it takes place early in the film. Basically Ko Chun falls and hits his head and suffers memory loss and a change in character and personality. He becomes very much like a young child, but with a few things remaining in tact, namely his love of chocolate and his ability in gambling.
The scenes where he is Ko Chun, the God of Gamblers, are where the film is in its forte. Greatly helped by and reflected in Chow Yun Fat's extremely confident acting, these scenes are stylish, cool and ooze charm and charisma. The gambling scenes themselves are equally as cool. The confidence, without crossing over into arrogance, which Ko Chun exudes, makes him all the more cooler and enviable. While the final gambling scenes provide the plot twists and ingenuity in story to make them entertaining, my favourite gambling scenes are actually the ones almost at the start of the film where Ko Chun has been challenged by a Japanese man. Some of what you see on screen can be described as gambling martial arts. There is choreography as the gamblers compete for the best pieces in the contest and it is highly entertaining to watch. The story and entertainment are at their best when Ko Chun is the God of Gamblers.
Then there is when Ko Chun is Chocolate, the child in a man's body. He's used by Knife (Andy Lau) once his gambling powers are discovered. In all honesty I found some of these scenes to be bloody annoying to watch. Having a kid on screen whining, screaming and being all childish is pretty much expected from children, so it is more or less tolerable. However, having a grown man doing this on screen, despite it being part of the character at that point, is not quite so tolerable. After not too long of this sort of behaviour I couldn't tolerate it much more. There are elements of something very typically Hong Kong in movie style during these scenes too, and that is the out-of-place, very bad, attempts at humour. Yet again the lack of humour in these supposed humorous moments brings the film down a bit more. The only times I found myself really interested in what was going on while Ko Chun was chocolate were when that plot thread was becoming entangled with the God of Gamblers plot thread. This is because those scenes generally involved gunfights.
Second to the gambling the gunfights are the next best thing in God Of Gamblers. There aren't that many of them at all, but what is lacking in volume is made up for in quality. The body count is high, the magazines in the guns seem like they never need to be reloaded and the violence is intoxicating! It is fast paced, some of the bad guys have taken shooting lessons so can actually hit their target every now and then and most importantly it is very entertaining. I particularly liked Ko Chun's bodyguard's switching-shooting-hand-while-being-bear-hugged move. Smooth!
All the acting is of a good standard in the film with no one really standing out, except Chow Yun Fat. As much as I wasn't as keen on the Chocolate scenes, Chow's portrayal of a man with a kid's personality obviously was effective, indicated by me being irritated by it! The main plot thread, once it gets back on track from the Chocolate side-track, is very well thought out and it allows the genius that Ko Chun evidently is to shine through. His outsmarting of his enemies is believably done, which is a relief as if it was made ridiculous, a lot of the film's credibility would have been lost. As it stands God Of Gamblers for me is a very solid film which is brought down a notch by the middle half where Chocolate is damn annoying.
Audio & Subtitles
On paper there is a good choice of audio options here, DD 5.1, DTS and the original stereo soundtrack. Just to see what it was like I chose the DTS mix. While DTS has the good stigma attached with it, a DTS soundtrack isn't good just because it is DTS - as this one here proves. That's possibly being a little harsh as it is just a 5.1 mix from a stereo original. The problems with it that I noticed were that effects sometimes were played around the surrounds seemingly for the sake of playing them around the surrounds. Sounds that clearly should have been coming from front centre due the action taking place on screen were quite often played from the left and right speakers (front and back). This happened quite frequently. It was like it was a new novelty for the people making the mix and they wanted to make as much use of it as possible. It works well in the gunfights as having bullets flying around all the speakers makes it, well, cool. The spreading of the sound aside, everything else seemed ok, with the possible exception of some relative volumes. There was a scene where Chow Yun Fat's voice seemed very quiet compared to the music track that was playing. Despite always wanting to make use of my 5.1 system, I think for this one sticking with the 2.0 may be a better option.
The subtitles are decent enough. There are quite a few spelling, grammar and tense errors throughout, but nothing majorly distracting or incomprehensible. The subtitles did seem a little simplified to the spoken dialogue though. From the very little Cantonese I know there were a few scenes that I noticed certain words being spoken that did not appear in the translation. The same basic gist was given, but not with the same wording as was spoken.
The film print is a bit of a mixed bag. There are moments when the picture on screen looks fantastic. Nice colours, detail seems sharp, very little grain and a very clean picture. But during other scenes the picture is very poor, with lots of noticeable dirt and marks on the print, colours are tinted, detail is very low with a soft picture and there is noticeable grain. Fortunately the majority is good quality and the poorer scenes were mainly towards the end of the film.
DVD & Extras
This release of God Of Gamblers comes housed in a sturdy outer slipcase. For extras there is info on the cast and crew, film synopsis, trailer, all the typical rubbish, but there is also an interview with Wong Jing. This is quite an interesting interview, albeit quite short. At just over 6 minutes in duration, a topic comes on screen in text and Wong Jing talks about it. The best bit is that there are English subtitles! Yay!
As far as releases of God Of Gamblers go, I gather that this is one of the better ones out there. The film itself is good - the violence is bloody and brutal, the gambling is cool and stylish, the acting is good, the story is well though out and the film as a whole is entertaining. If the middle section hadn't been as annoying for me it would certainly have scored a little better.