Bet to Basic

Hong Kong cinema is of course famous for its action and fantasy films, but a popular genre that doesn't translate nearly as well outside of its local environs are the hundreds of gambling films that have been made over the past thirty years. Kids must be brought up in Hong Kong being told that if they study very hard and apply themselves then some day they too can become the God of Gamblers. These gambling films incorporate lots of other genre aspects as well - usually some action, the supernatural, triad involvement and a femme fatale around the corner. They can be a lot of fun when done right but to many of us who are not particularly well versed in the arts of gambling they can also be highly perplexing.
Mahjong in particular makes my head spin like someone possessed by the devil. I have no idea what is happening and all those bamboo and circle tiles are a complete mystery to me. This film is nearly all mahjong from start to finish and those unfamiliar with this addictive passion will likely miss much of the humor and drama that local audiences were possibly getting. A friend who saw it in Hong Kong wrote me that "The theater was packed & the audience into the movie - lots of laughter & good feeling". I was not so fortunate.
Like almost all films coming out of Hong Kong these days, this is somewhat of a shadow of the glamorous gambling films of yore starring Chow Yun Fat or Andy Lau. Budgets or the lack of them have changed that. Now instead of the matches taking place in lavish surroundings with people dressed to the nines, the preliminary round of this one occurs outside in what looks like a roped off parking lot being played on cheap card tables and with every one huddled up in a coat freezing as this was clearly shot in the winter time. For the finals it at least moves inside of a dark restaurant but apparently they could not afford to turn on the heat as all the onlookers are still in their coats. And clearly not even paying attention to the match going on. Maybe they were just there for dinner and didn't even know the film was being shot.
Still for a very modest affair, this is modestly entertaining with a few solid moments of humor coming primarily from two amusing parodies of Kung Fu Hustle and the rock incident in Election. The B-film actors are amiable enough and favorites of some. Jordan Chan is making a solid career of appearing in these mid-budget films and gives this his usual blank faced low energy effort. He is solidly supported by Yuen Wah making his 400th film since Kung Fu Hustle, Eric Kot, Chin Kar Lok, Samuel Pang and the lovely looking Rain Li. She has a kind of Michelle Reis look to her that is very appealing.
The tournament to decide whom the King of Mahjong is coming up and a number of players are ready to go for it. Lets break this down scientifically in case there is a test afterwards. You have Flying Dragon (Chin Kar Lok) a rather shiftless but good-hearted player, his cousin just back from the states is Ah Loi (Jordan) who has the knack of simply picking up a winning hand from the pile, God's Eye (Eric Kot) is the former King of Mahjong but lost out in the last tournament to the character played by Yuen Wah. Their respective protégé's are Morpheus (Samuel Pang) whose bushy eyebrows mark him as the main bad guy and Pui Yee (Rain). Lots of mahjong is then played - I mean lots of mahjong - enough to make me feel as if I was in an all-night marathon and my eyeballs were bleeding and along with this are a few betrayals and lots of lollipops as Ah Loi learns that this is the secret to a woman's dark heart.

My rating for this film: 5.5 (give yourself another point or two if you can play mahjong!)

Other "View from the Brooklyn Bridge" Film Raters:

YTSL: 6.0
Sarah: 6.5