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.
God of Gamblers 3: The Early Stage
(1996; Golden Harvest / BOB & Partners Company / Golden Movies International)
Gigi Leung Wing-kei. Image courtesy Universe.
Cinematographer: Arthur Wong Ngok-tai
Leon Lai Ming. Image courtesy Universe.
On paper, this does not sound like a promising project: Leon Lai, a handsome but not especially charismatic actor / singer, playing the legendary Ko Chun in the years prior to the time depicted in the original God of Gamblers. However, give credit to both Lai and writer / director Wong Jing: The resulting film is surprisingly good, and while he may not be Chow Yun-fat, Lai makes for a perfectly acceptable substitute. The film opens in 1969, with the young Chun being purchased by master gambler Kent. The story then switches to 1986, as Chun's future bodyguard, Lone Ng, proves his mettle by single-handedly dispatching eleven attackers. Impressed by his abilities, cocky Sister Seven (who once encountered Chun as a child but hasn't seen him since) hires Lone and the pair meet up with Chun at a card game one night. A "God of Gamblers" competition is going to be held to find the individual qualified to run South East Asia's casinos and Kent chooses Chun over his other two experts, Hing and Ngo, to represent him. Chun is deeply in love with Hing and Ngo openly resents him for it. During the tournament finals, Chun is betrayed and this sets the stage for the sort of classic, high stakes finale these films are famous for.
Anita Yuen Wing-yee (left) and Lai (right). Image courtesy Universe.
Along the way, we see how Chun acquired his jade pinkie ring, why he loves chocolate so much, and why he gels his hair before a match. The requisite twists and turns are satisfying, as is the outcome, which features one of the series' best resolutions. As mentioned, Lai does well by the role but it is Jordan Chan (exuding controlled rage and strength) who walks away with this entry. He's sensational and imbues the part with more physicality than Charles Heung, using martial arts skills and not just guns to take out the enemy. There is one major problem, though: the way Lai and Chan's characters meet here completely contradicts their first encounter in the original film!
Yuen (left) and Jordan Chan Siu-chun (right). Image courtesy Universe.
Cheung Tat-ming (left) and Len Len (right). Image courtesy Universe.