Review: Chow Yun Fat Wins Big In FROM VEGAS TO MACAU

James Marsh, Asian Editor
Chow Yun Fat and writer-director Wong Jing return to the casino floor in this light-hearted action comedy that casts Chow alongside Nicolas Tse and Chapman To as con artists out to take down an international gambling syndicate. With his trademark genre-blending style, Wong flits between action, comedy, romance and espionage, delivering a fast-paced, loosely-plotted caper that should play strongly over the Lunar New Year holidays. 

When his family becomes the target of a powerful underground gaming ring, Cool (Nicolas Tse) turns to legendary gambler and former Vegas security consultant "Magic Hands" Ken (Chow Yun Fat) for help. Cool wants to become Ken's protege, and also marry his daughter Rainbow (Kimmy Tong), but vengeance must come first. Initially reluctant, the cops eventually manage to woo Ken into facing off against the syndicate's evil mastermind Ko (Gao Hu), setting the stage for the ultimate card table showdown.

It has been 20 years since Chow Yun Fat starred in a Cantonese-language film, but he has lost none of his onscreen charisma or natural flair for comedy. Nominally a new character, Ken shares many similarities to Ko Chun from Wong Jing's 1989 smash hit God of Gamblers, which the film openly references throughout. Ken has attracted notoriety in the gambling world for his ability to read cards simply by touching them, but is equally skilled at mahjong and, when in a bind, using a pack of gold playing cards as throwing weapons.

Effortlessly upstaging his younger co-stars, Chow sings and dances his way through the film, as women half his age swoon, and screen heartthrobs shrink into his shadows. Nic Tse continues to be a somewhat aloof and inconsequential screen presence, unable to rediscover the strength he displayed in his collaborations with Dante Lam, but Chapman To - who has become Wong Jing's go-to leading man in recent years - proves a reliable comic foil as Cool's less sophisticated cousin, Karl.

Numerous subplots and ancillary characters keep the momentum high even if they aren't all resolved satisfactorily. Philip Ng has a memorable turn as the undercover agent whose discovery unwittingly puts Cool's family in danger in the first place, while the increasingly ubiquitous Jing Tian plays a beautiful interpol officer whose flirtation with Ken is never adequately resolved. Cool and Rainbow's burgeoning romance also seems to lack any impactful story purpose, but they're both young and attractive, so perhaps that's sufficient explanation.

However, From Vegas To Macau is pitched squarely as a slice of holiday escapism, and contains enough action beats and solid laughs to keep things rattling along at an entertaining clip. Ng and Tse both get a couple of fights under their belt opposite Max Zhang's villainous thug Ghost Eyes, while Ken and Ko's pivotal stand off includes a hilarious sequence as each attempts to out-shuffle the other with their decks of cards. Elsewhere, the locations are glamorous, the girls are pretty, the violence bloody and the jokes are crude - Wong even manages to slip in a couple of references to himself for good measure.

While not quite up to the mythic status of their original collaboration, Chow Yun Fat and Wong Jing have done a great job of recapturing the spirit of the God of Gamblers series. From Vegas To Macau is fast, funny and spilling over with escapist antics in opulent surroundings. It does take a moment to promote the importance of family and loyalty, while wagging a finger at Mainland greed, but overall this competently furthers Wong's recent efforts to return Hong Kong Cinema to something approximating its glorious past.
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  • DJ_BobbyPeru

    I've always dug Chow Yun Fat in comedies. He was great in Let the Bullets Fly.

  • Qinlong

    "he has lost none of his onscreen charisma or natural flair for comedy" > That's good to know, in the trailers he seemed weirdly muted and sad-faced.

    For Nic Tse I kind of disagree, I find him quite lithe and charismatic not only in Dante Lam's films, but also in Benny Chan's and the recent The Bullet Vanishes.

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