Started in 1989 by the prolific Wong Jing, the God of Gamblers series has been continuing to entertain audiences for the past 27 years. Starring some of the biggest stars in Hong Kong cinema, Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, Stephen Chow, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Ng Man Tat, Leon Lai, Nick Cheung, Donnie Yen and a lot more, the series has had its ups and downs, but each film usually has something for most Hong Kong cinema fans. Incorporating sequels, spinoffs, unofficial spinoffs and even spinoffs of spinoffs, the God of Gamblers series is truly one of a kind. God of Gamblers
God of Gamblers – 1989
This is where it all started. Probably the best film from Wong Jing (some would argue that it wouldn’t be difficult), God of Gamblers is a multi genre film including high comedy, drama, action and even more comedy. Chow Yun Fat plays Ko Chun, the God of Gamblers of the title. After an accident knocks him seven shades of silly, he is taken in by Knife, played by Andy Lau. After Knife realises the idiot savant’s gambling powers, he decides to exploit him for all he’s worth. Like most Hong Kong comedies, there are major tonal shifts. One minute you are laughing at one of Chow’s many pratfalls, only to have his wife murdered and raped (and I did get that the right way round) in the next scene. Fans of Hong Kong cinema will not be surprised by these tonal changes, as it really is the norm with these films. It is not hard to see why Chow Yun Fat would have been interested in the role of Ko Chun, as it gives him a chance to show his range. He gets to be his usual suave self at the beginning of the film, until he becomes like Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man. He also still gets a number of action scenes, which after his success with John Woo was probably expected. Andy Lau is also good, considering his character is a bit of a dick. Considering the only reason that he initially helps Ko Chun is because he caused his accident, he is not exactly what heroes are made of. Fortunately his character is quite funny and has good chemistry with Yun Fat and his leading lady Joey Wong. Throw in a decent supporting cast of Charles Heung, Ng Man Tat and the always welcome Shing Fui On all go to make God of Gamblers a film not to be missed.
All for the Winner – 1990
The first of the unofficial spinoffs. After the success of God of Gamblers a number of Hong Kong movies went in to production to cash in. All for the Winner was one of these. What sets it out from the crowd of imitations was down to the rising star power of Stephen Chow Sing Chi. Due to this film he went on to become the biggest box office draw in Hong Kong. All for the Winner also went on to become the highest grossing film in Hong Kong history at the time of its release. The plot concerns mainlander Sing (Chow Sing Chi), who travels to Hong Kong to visit his uncle played by the excellent Ng Man Tat. Like Andy Lau’s character in God of Gamblers, Man Tat can’t really be bothered with Sing until he finds out about his gifts, which in this film is his ability to see through objects. From that all matter of hi-jinks ensues, with Man Tat exploiting his nephew’s gift. Co-Directed by Yuen Kwai (Cory Yuen) and comedy king Jeff Lau, All for the Winner is nowhere as slick as the film it takes inspiration from, and is quite uneven. The film does have a number of great action scenes, unsurprisingly as they are directed by Yuen, and the laugh ratio is very high. This was also the first film to realise the great partnership Chow and Ng Man Tat could make. The reason All for the Winner is included in the main God of Gamblers series as Chow and Man Tat took their characters into the main series in God of Gamblers 2.
God of Gamblers 2 – 1990
The first official sequel to the smash hit God of Gamblers unfortunately doesn’t star Chow Yun Fat. On the plus side his replacement is Stephen Chow, which makes this sequel somewhat sillier and than the original. It is also a lot funnier. Chow; along with Ng Man Tat play the same characters from All for the Winner. This is where the series starts to get slightly confusing in terms of what films are deemed cannon, as this movie is both a sequel to the original God of Gamblers and the unofficial spinoff/rip-off All for the Winner. Andy Lau returns as Knife, and is this time along with Chow, is promoted to lead duties. The plot is just an excuse for Lau and Chow to get into comedic situations. The addition of Chow to the film means that there is slightly less action than the previous movie, but there is still enough to keep you entertained, with Charles Heung showing up in his shell-suit to kick ass when needed. It is best not putting too much though into this series as actors do appear in multiple films, sometimes as different characters, such as Ng Man Tat who appeared in the first God of Gamblers as a villain but is now on sidekick duties.
God of Gamblers 3: Back to Shanghai – 1991
This is when the God of Gamblers series went totally bonkers. Probably the best of the three Gamblers films to star Stephen Chow, it is also the most like a full on Stephen Chow comedy. The plot includes time travel, doppelgangers, musical numbers and a number of extremely violent action scenes. This time round Sing is accidentally sent back in time to 1930’s Shanghai. Whilst there he meets up with the effeminate grandfather of his Uncle (also played by Ng Man Tat), and gets himself involved in a triad war by befriending gang boss Ray Liu. The film ends up like most of the God of Gamblers in a large gambling tournament, with Chow using his magic against the villains. God of Gamblers 3 had everything fans of the series had come to expect, with more thrown in for good measure. The film also has a bit of gravitas by having mainland star Gong Li show up in a dual role. This wasn’t the only film she made with Stephen Chow, as she also showed up in Flirting Scholar, so she obviously enjoyed working with him. Unfortunately this is the last of the God of Gamblers to date to star Stephen Chow.
The Top Bet – 1991
Technically not officially part of the God of Gamblers series, but it has been included as it is a spinoff/sequel to All for the Winner. Chow Sing Chi sadly doesn’t return but Ng Man Tat does along with Directors Jeff Lau and Yuen Kwai. The film concerns Man Tat looking for a suitable replacement for his nephew. This time round there is more of a female focus with Carol Cheng and Anita Mui being the stars of the film. Unfortunately The Top Bet can’t live up to the original, with a lot of the jokes not hitting their target. It is just another typical 90’s Hong Kong comedy, livened up a bit by its game cast, and some good action scenes.
Return of the God of Gamblers – 1994
After five years, Wong Jing finally tempted Chow Yun Fat back to his signature role of Ko Chun. Although not as entertaining as the original, the sequel is still great fun and has a great supporting cast including Tony Leung Ka Fai, Chingamy Yau, Wu Chien-Lien and the scene stealing Elvis Tsui. The story involves Ko Chun, who has now immigrated to France, living with his pregnant wife (Cheung Man). The usual bad guys show up to challenge Ko Chun. Typical of a Hong Kong comedy, this challenge includes killing Ko Chun’s wife and cutting out her unborn child from her stomach. They then proceed to put the foetus in a jar. Even I thought this was too much. Fortunately the film does get somewhat lighter after this, but still does involve a number of violent action scenes. Tony Leung is great in a purely comedic role. Wu Chien-Lien seems to be brought in to add a bit of dramatic weight to proceedings. Charles Heung also shows up in his obligatory role of Lone Ng. Add in the always excellent Elvis Tsui and you have a cast that is almost every bit as good as the original. There seems to be more ridiculous comedy throughout this sequel compared to the original. I think this may have been done to keep it more in line with the sequels that starred Chow Sing Chi. On a side note, Cheung Man once again plays Ko Chun’s wife. She also played his wife in the original God of Gamblers, but that was a different character. It always seemed strange to me that they got Cheung Man to play this part in the sequel as it implies that Ko Chun is a bit twisted and married a woman because she was identical to his first wife. Cheung Man also appeared in All for the Winner and God of Gamblers 2 and God of Gamblers 3 each time playing a different character. That makes five appearances in this series as a different character. This is just par for the course with this series.