God of Gamblers 3 - The Early Years
Hong Kong 1996
Directed by Wong Jing.

Apparently the people in charge of English titles can only count to three. So here's another God of Gamblers 3, this time going back to his youth, with none of the original actors involved.

It's 1986 and Ko Chun(Leon Lai) is about to earn his title in this prequel to the God of Gamblers. And whenever there is a prequel involved, that means bringing in a younger actor to take the part. That the story takes place only three years before God of Gamblers is irrelevant. At the end of this film, the narrator states, "It has been some time since anyone has seen the God of Gamblers." I take this to mean that he got plastic surgery to look just like Chow Yun-Fat, and no one recognizes him anymore.

Leon Lai might not seem like much of a replacement for Chow Yun-Fat. But he's helped out by a stellar supporting cast and a decent script. As a result, the film rises far above the mixed-up, rambling, incoherent God of Gamblers Returns. In addition to providing the usual gambling thrills, we learn the story behind the things that really matter in Ko Chun's character. That's right: the jade ring, the hair gel, and the chocolate. We also learn why Ko Chun is so weird.

When we are first introduced to little Ko Chun, he is just a child. His auntie gambles away all of their possessions on the street corner, including his mother's jade ring, in an unusual dice game in which she is guessing on crabs or gourds. Tsui Kam-Kong is the sharp who pulls a fast one on them and leaves with the ring. Shortly thereafter Ko Chun is captured by the cast of Oliver Twist but just when Fagan is going to cut off his arms and legs, the young boy is saved by Mr. Kent and his knife-wielding son. They cart Ko Chun off and begin his gambling lessons.

You see, gambling is like the father and mother Ko Chun never had. After they were brutally killed (off-screen, how rare for a Wong Jing picture), his only parents were the Queen of Hearts and the King of Spades. Mr. Kent raises him as a gambler, teaching him to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. He teaches him to stop playing with his one-eyed Jack, it will stunt his growth. And so Ko Chun becomes a member of Mr. Kent's elite gambling stable of gambling orphans, the other two members being Ko Ngo(Francis Ng, wearing an Ekin Cheng disguise) and Kent Hing(Gigi Leung).

But all is not rosy at the homestead. Ko Ngo chafes under Mr. Kent's orders. He hates always having to be second to Ko Chun. The same thing happens in God of Gamblers, with his second in that movie. We are always seeing Ko Chun as the good guy, but he sure has a problem giving anyone else any credit. Is he so cocky that everyone who has to work under him eventually wants to kill him? He's a good gambler, but he really should work on his people skills.

Meanwhile, there's Sister 7(Anita Yuen), the daughter of Tsui Kam-Kong and the inheritor of the jade ring. She has fantasized about Ko Chun ever since they first saw each other twenty years ago. He, you might expect, could care less about her, since he is already planning to marry Kent Hing. Sister 7 has her own business to run, and ends up inlisting Lone Ng, recently arrived from Vietnam. Lone Ng, the 'God of Guns,' as he later becomes known when played by Charles Heung in the other movies of the series, is played to perfection here by Jordan Chan. One of the largest inconsistencies in this prequel (there are always the inevitable few) is that Lone Ng and Ko Chun meet and become friends, when it is obvious in God of Gamblers that they had never met before. Nevertheless, like Charles Heung before him, Jordan Chan has some scene-stealing fight scenes that are pure fun to watch.

As you might expect, everyone betrays Ko Chun except Sister 7 and Lone Ng. And also as you might expect, it all ends with a game of cards, played for 'revenge.' Along the way, Ko Chun's girlfriend is horribly killed (we've come to expect this), he gets shot in the head and starts acting like a retard (again, expected), and ends up being ten steps ahead of everyone else the whole time. Viewers who have been burning to know just what kind of chocolate Ko Chun eats, we get a close-up shot of the box, and learn he is eating Feodora, a German chocolate. Product placement has improved somewhat since the original God of Gamblers. When I think of what an American director would have done with the chocolate habit, I shudder. Big, incredibly big bags of M & M candies, with the "M & M" lettering larger than anywhere you've seen before, would be plastered everywhere. And whenever he ate some more, he would hold the bag with the "M & M" logo properly facing out and to the camera. After watching a movie such as that, the only reasonable response is to swear off "M & M's" for a year. This kind of subtle product placing, though, kind of makes me want to go out and buy a box of Feodoras.

And what about the hair gel? It's all because of Alain Delon, shown here to be the inspiration for Ko Chun's do. Well, why not? Delon's starring role as Jeff in Le Samourai was the influence for Chow Yun-Fat's character Jeff in The Killer, Chow wore Delon's sunglass brand for the film and they sold thereafter like hotcakes. So now we see The Killer wasn't the only Chow role influenced by the man...his hair style was also very influential in making Ko Chun's hair the grease slick it becomes. Was this an intentional analogy by the filmmakers, or a happy coincedence? Chances are, I'll never care enough to find out.

Being the fifth movie in the "God of Gamblers" series, there's a certain amount of "been there, done that" expectation going in. To its credit, though, the film feels fresh, the plot is coherent, the actors exceptional. The film is a worthy addition to the saga of the Gambling God.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 31, 2004.

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