Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate
editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author
of The Hong Kong Filmography.
The Top Bet
Most gweilo fans of HK cinema know that the surprise success of Jeff Lau Chun-wai and Corey Yuen Kwai's ALL FOR THE WINNER prompted the Heung Brothers to have Stephen Chiau Sing-chi and Ng Man-tat reprise their roles in Wong Jing's Do hap ("Knight of Gamblers"), which was called GOD OF GAMBLERS II in English...but let's not get into that particular series. What some Westerners don't know is that Sing Jai and Tat Suk also played these characters in Lau and Yuen's THE TOP BET, a more closely related WINNER spinoff toplined by Anita Mui Yim-fong and Carol Cheng Yiu-ling.
Carol Cheung Yiu-ling (left) and Anita Mui Yim-fong (right). Image courtesy Mega Star.
Still savoring his victory over the villainous Hung Kwong (Paul Chun Pui), Shing (Chiau, in a bookending cameo) decides to travel the world and learn about gambling in other cultures. Meanwhile, the Mainland government is furious over Shing's abuse of his powers, dispatching his sister, Mei (Mui), to HK with orders to place him under arrest. Desperate to regain his supremacy in the gambling world, Hung announces that he will stage the Super King of Gambling Competition, prompting deranged triad Chan Chung (Jeff Lau Chun-wai) to advance Tat (Ng) $HK10 million with orders that Shing participate in the re-match. Unable to locate him, Tat faces death at the knives of Chan's goons but discovers the next best thing: Mei, who possesses all of her brother's abilities.
Anita Mui. Image courtesy Mega Star.
Convincing the red book toting Maoist to participate in this Capitalist debauchery is going to be no easy task, however, so Tat considers a second candidate: fishmongerer Fanny (Cheng). Known around the docks as The Queen of Gambling, Fanny actually has no powers at all and is planning on using the $US1 million deposit Tat has offered to have her wheelchair-bound brother cured. Nevertheless, Chan is convinced of Fanny's abilities and the mortified Tat (who didn't realize that he was being taken for a fool) is now stuck with her. The pair beg Mei to transfer some of her powers to Fanny but the comrade (who is having a great time debunking Fanny's claims of power) still refuses to help. However, she has a change of heart when Fanny protects her from an attack by Hung's goons. Hung, meanwhile, has prepared for the match by recruiting his own Mainland wiz (Lau Shun) to give him a supernatural boost.
Stephen Chiau Sing-chi. Image courtesy Mega Star.
Chiau only appears for a few minutes but THE TOP BET is very much in the spirit of his work, with plenty of W-A-A-H! mugging and violent, sometimes hilariously tasteless, slapstick. Like its forerunner, this exceedingly broad levity blends in surprisingly well with the standard gambling movie scenario (which was established in the previous decade's TVB serials and Wong Jing's CASINO RAIDERS and GOD OF GAMBLERS). The "card rubbing" fantasy elements from ALL FOR THE WINNER are back and there is another of those great climactic twists that allow so many of these movies to finish on a high note. Cast in their trademark roles, Carol Cheng and Ng Man-tat play the material for all the laughs it can muster but Anita Mui emerges as the most notable of the leads. Mui's dancing skills allow her come off splendidly during a totally gratuitous but highly enjoyable kung fu sequence (possibly inspired by a similar bit in the previous year's SHANGHAI SHANGHAI) and her comparatively deadpan performance makes for a fun contrast. Lowell Lo Kwun-ting, Kenny Bee (as a neanderthal-like Big Circle bandit), Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Wah, Shing Fui-on, Cho Chun-sing, Chen Jing, Tai Po, and Woo Fung are among the large supporting cast.
(Left to right) Ng Man-tat, Carol Cheng and Lowell Lo Kwun-ting. Image courtesy Mega Star.
Paul Chun Pui. Image courtesy Mega Star.