Although far from being the pinnacle of Chow Yun-Fat’s career, the God of Gamblers series certainly has its fair share of fans. That fanbase has mostly lied in the constituency of hardcore Hong Kong film fanatics, but their loyalty has helped the series catch on here in North America. Likely edging out some of Chow’s more obscure (but very solid) work such as Prison on Fire or Peace Hotel in terms of fan appreciation. Personally, as a film fan, I have to say that Hong Kong comedies are universally hit or miss with me. More often than not I find them striking out in a big way, but every now and then you’ll find a gem that actually makes the search worthwhile. I won’t say that the original God of Gamblers was THAT movie for me, it was interesting enough to warrant my exploration further into the series. This second entry, due to my familiarity with it from a highlight video of Chow Yun-Fat’s greatest gunfights, actually held the most interest for me. The original God of Gamblers was not an action film in any regard, which fit in line with everything I had already heard about the series up until this point, but this sequel actually manages to mix the comedy of that first film with the wild action that has made Chow Yun-Fat such a notable and historic actor in the eyes of cult film fans everywhere. Director Wong Jing has never been one to shy away from mixing up a strange brew with his films, but I think he actually managed to create something interesting here.
Packing along two very solid gunfights during its run-time, it would be unfair to lead you the reader on and say that God of Gamblers: Returns is a tremendous piece of action cinema. It is not. It is, with no hesitation, an action-comedy. You can believe me as well, there is a heavy emphasis on the comedy in that allocation of words. Your personal preference as far as Hong Kong comedy will go a long way in determining your level of entertainment here. For those of you who are inexperienced in Hong Kong comedies and what to expect, just imagine a very weaselly looking gentleman in your head. Now imagine this gentleman crossing both of his eyes. Then, when you have that ready, imagine this gentleman half-shouting all of his lines and making very silly faces in your direction. These comedies are usually very over the top and broad in their attempts at humor, so if you set your goals low you will either have fun while ignoring the silliest parts or you will find yourself rolling your eyes. Thankfully God of Gamblers doesn’t take the easiest route to its comedy, and while it does most certainly pack a very goofy sense of humor (a guy gets a nosebleed while looking at a pretty girl, characters instantly dress/undress in a moment’s notice, etc.) the film manages to mix in some very dark and violent moments that punctuate the overall aura of friendliness.
The introduction to the film features two very interesting elements that perfectly define these darker moments that I speak of. First, we get our introductory shootout sequence. The character ‘The God of Guns’ brings the same level of uncanny knowledge (or magic) that The God of Gamblers seems to have with cards, but instead translates his magic in the world of firearms instead. This shootout features Ko Chun and the God of Guns running rampant through a mansion shooting anyone and anything that gets in their way. Shotguns and dual handguns are the tools of choice as this scene establishes Ko Chun’s ability to dish out violence. However, the scene takes a bizarre twist as it comes to a close with The God of Gamblers finding his dying wife in her bed, with her stomach sliced open and his fetal son placed in a jar on a dresser across the room. The wind is taken out of our sails as Chow ultimately finds himself wandering around for the next few scenes, only to inevitably wind up in a few wacky situations where he can use his gambling skills and still remain secretive about who he really is. It is a 180 degree turn that we take after this violent opening, and inevitably other bloody sequences pop up throughout, but not before we can have some very silly fun along the way. Throughout much of the film, since the God of Gamblers isn’t actually allowed to gamble, we see Ko Chun instead use his friends as figurative puppets. This is very kin to the traditional martial arts ‘grand master’ who would use those who didn’t know Kung Fu in order to beat their opponents by simply kicking the back of their leg and forcing them to throw their own foot in the face of an opponent. This could be seen in various martial art films including Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow as well as various other Kung Fu comedies. The effect is well done and the comedy, in the face of the bloodshed, actually seems fairly subdued in spite of all the wackiness.