All for the Winner
Hong Kong 1990
Directed by Jeff Lau.

Stephen Chow parodies the God of Gamblers with his own character, the Saint of Gamblers, in a movie that becomes just as big a hit.

God of Gamblers might have been enough by itself to launch the frenzy of gambling films that was soon to follow. But some credit must be given to this film, which is able to parody the earlier film and at the same time create an engaging story around a new cast of characters that in many ways was stronger than God of Gamblers. All for the Winner was a box office smash, making a star out of its lead, Stephen Chow. This movie is still in the top highest grossing H.K. films of all time, and Stephen Chow's films continue to draw large audiences.

The story concerns Sing-Chi(Stephen Chow), defining his standard character type he was to use again and again in subsequent films. He is an innocent mainlander arriving in Hong Kong for the first time, alone, naive, and broke. But he is also possessed of powers that make him special in some way, that make him rise above the other common people. Although he is perceived as a country bumpkin and made fun of and taken advantage of, actually he has much hidden strength. This character could be said to be a metaphor for China itself, and Hong Kong's relation toward it. Hong Kong may perceive China as backwards and simple, but in fact its people hold an inner reserve of strength, which in their modesty, and since no one has called upon them to use it, remains hidden. The mainlanders have their own powers, and their own knowledge, largely unknown to the citizens of Hong Kong. Although he is made fun of, he is after all the hero of the picture. This idea is much of what makes this kind of character so likeable, and the film so popular with all audiences.

Sing-Chi has traveled to Hong Kong to stay with his Uncle Tat(Ng Man-Tat), and look for a job. Uncle Tat quickly learns that Sing-Chi has special powers and teaches him to gamble. They try their skills at Hi-Lo, horseracing, and cards, with mixed results. When their gambling attracts too much attention, the two biggest gamblers, Mr. Hung and Mr. Chung, each try to get him to play for them in the World Gambling Tournament. Uncle Tat explains to Sing-Chi that he must have the proper image to be a gambler, and they promptly pop in a tape of God of Gamblers, and study his movements. Even after studying the tape, however, Sing-Chi cannot bring himself to use the hair gel.

Sing-Chi meets the beautiful Yu-Mong(Cheung Man), and promptly falls in love. He becomes obsessed with her beautiful armpit mole. Are Hong Kong movies great or what? Anyway, he becomes so infatuated with her that he cannot use his magical powers unless she is around. We know that he is in love with her because we see the obligatory time is passing, we're falling in love montage. At the end, Everyone has to work together to rescue Yu-Mong and try to help Sing-Chi win the World Gambling Tournament, whatever it takes. The fact that part of the plot revolves around an armpit mole is the most inspired bit of body part casting since Woody Allen's Sleeper.

There are alot of nice moments in this film. Even the supporting characters are strong and well defined. Uncle Tat's friends, Ping(Sandra Ng), Luk, and Shing, each have their moments in the film where we see them as actual people, instead of simply as vehicles for humour. Likewise I felt a certain pity for the gambling villain Mr. Hung, who does NOT attempt to cheat in any of his games. That we are supposed to cheer when Sing-Chi cheats him out of victory by using his magic powers leaves me a little cold. The gambling scenes themselves were however exciting and entertaining.

And lest I forget, this is a comedy. It has often been said, in fact to the point of nausea, that if you don't understand Cantonese, you won't get Stephen Chow's humor. This is a complete load of crap. And I suppose I also won't get Opera because I don't know Italian. And I won't understand the Bible unless I understand Hebrew. Whatever. Granted, he does do some wordplay that is often ignored by the translators. But you don't miss much by missing this. I mean, just how funny do you think puns are, anyway? Even without knowing Cantonese, he is pretty damn funny. After all, as most comedians know, humor is not in what you say, it's how you say it. It's all about timing. And hey, sometimes the subtitlers are actually successful in presenting an english equivalent to his puns, if not verbatim then at least in spirit.

Ng Man-Tat is also in rare form here. We see him exhibit "Hereditary Loss of Control," cross-dress, and demonstrates how Cheung Man could become, over time, Sandra Ng. Should the comedy get old, there are also alot of action scenes, far more than in God of Gamblers. In almost every way it's a better movie than its predecessor. Perhaps recognizing this, or perhaps just because Chow Yun-Fat had better things to do, Sing-Chi and Uncle Tat were the ones who returned in God of Gamblers II, released later the same year.

Rating: Highly Recommended (Highly Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 31, 2004.

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