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Issue #172 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES August 11th, 2003

Challenge of the Gamesters
(1981; Shaw Brothers)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Chin wong dau chin ba
Mandarin: Qian wang dou qian ba
English: Swindling King vs Swindling Bully

The TVB network enjoyed major success with the 1980 miniseries THE SHELL GAME (Chin wong ji wong, "Swindling King of Swindling Kings"), written by Wong Jing and produced by his father, Wong Tin-lam. It told of the competition (and eventual partnership) between master gamblers Lo Sei-hoi (Patrick Tse Yin), aka "The Mystical Eyes of the South," and Chek Yut-fu (Yeung Kwan), "The Magic Hands of the North" during the 1920s. A smash hit, SHELL spawned a sequel, co-starring a young Chow Yun-fat, whose Chinese title translates as "Meeting of the Swindling Kings." Tse also starred in CHALLENGE OF THE GAMESTERS, a theatrical prequel of sorts, that served as Wong Jing's directorial debut.

Leng jai con artist Lei Li (Wong Yue) is overjoyed to hear that Guangdong's "King of Imposters" Luo Sihai (the Mandarin form of Lo Sei-hoi) has arrived in the area, as he hopes to challenge the suave and unbeatable master. Lieutenant Guo (Melvin Wong Kam-sun) contacts Luo and requests his help in defeating Zhang Lie (Chen Kuan-tai), a master gambler known as "The Supreme Imposter." Zhang is in league with the Japanese, and Luo is instructed to kill him and get a list of the undercover operatives working in Shanghai. Against Guo's wishes, Luo takes Lei along and makes the cocky but talented youth his partner. Luo craftily defeats Zhang at cards, and then faces him again at mahjong. However, the latter contest was merely a way for Luo's associates to craft a floor plan of Zhang's booby-trapped home. It is Lei's assignment to get the name list but he also does his best to impress their target's cute daughter, Zhang Xiaoyang (SHAOLIN MANTIS' Wong Hang-sau). Luo, meanwhile, renews acquaintances with an actress friend who has caught Zhang's eye.

The details of the caper (which include a replica of Zhang's house so exact that even he cannot tell the difference!) are pretty hard to swallow but the execution is slick and unpredictable enough to keep one entertained. Even this early in the game, Wong Jing's movie formula is in place, with everything from melodrama to scatological jokes part of the mix. Kung fu action figures prominently in the proceedings, with some slick handwork even appearing during the mahjong game, and action director Yuen Cheung-yan transforms pool into a wire-enhanced contact sport! Wong Yue also gets to display his martial skills during a fight with some hired killers, and Tse flings razor sharp playing cards into his enemies. Elderly library cues (the weak point of many a Shaw Brothers production) detract somewhat from the atmosphere and dramatics, but this well-paced outing is the sort of disarming mass audience entertainment that made Wong one of Hong Kong's most successful directors. The supporting cast includes Chan Shen, Lee Fai-wong, and Wong Jing himself.

Cover art courtesy Intercontinental.

Chen Kuan-tai. Image courtesy Intercontinental.

Wong Hang-sau. Image courtesy Intercontinental.
Intercontinental #613043 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks (both post-synced)

Optional Subtitles in English, Traditional Chinese, Malaysian, and Indonesian

12 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Clips

Enhanced for 16:9 Displays

Letterboxed (2.35:1)

Coded for Region 3 Only

NTSC Format

99 Minutes (at 25 frames-per-second)

Contains moderate violence and nudity

DVD menu courtesy Intercontinental.

Australia: M 15+
Ontario: AA
Singapore: PG [Passed With Cuts]

The presentation is quite clean and satisfying, and the Cantonese audio suffers from no more imperfections than one would expect. The Mandarin track, however, is hissy and noisy, and there are awkward edits at 33:59 and 1:30:06, suggesting that a bit of footage is missing from the element. The regular Celestial extras are present: the original theatrical trailer (which contains major spoilers) and a new promo spot, promos for HAVE SWORD, WILL TRAVEL and THE GOLDEN BUDDHA, the original poster, and bios/filmographies.

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