Wise Guys Never Die
Hong Kong 2006
Directed by Wong Jing.

Wong Jing's never-ending obsession with gambling films bubbles up out of his id once again, making its annual appearance in Hong Kong's theaters and DVD shops. This time around he puts the usual elements together (gambling training, male rape, and a big gambling event at the end) and makes a drama, rather than the usual comedy. This is a bit confusing, considering the poster art is of a whimsical poker match between Nick Cheung and a dog and an alligator. But then again, Wong Jing is notorious for tricking people into the theater with whatever means he can, so I suppose this is hardly different.

This is a Wong Jing movie from first to last: written, directed, produced, and this time, even co-starring in a role that gives him a chance to grope all the babes in the cast in front of the camera for a change. Playing opposite Wong Jing is long time confederate Nick Cheung -- though finally, it seems, Wong has given up trying to get Nick Cheung to be funny. It never worked very well, and though I'm sure he had hopes at one point that Cheung would be the next Stephen Chow, he is nothing of the sort. On the other hand, he is in his element when he plays a kind of creepy guy who is uncomfortable in his own skin and possibly criminal.

Nick (Nick Cheung) is framed for cooking the books for his boss and gets nine months in prison, where he is subject to sexual abuse from the inmates, led by Ben Ng. But then he meets Teddy (Wong Jing), who protects him, and teaches him the art of being a con man. When Nick finally gets out, six months later than Teddy, they reunite to try a major con and live on easy street for the rest of their lives. Nick's girlfriend (Jolie Chan), who waited for him while he was in jail, doesn't want the riches, but he doesn't really listen since he's totally infatuated with Teddy's girl (Alice Chan), who has a con of her own in mind. It all gets a bit complex, but there aren't really many places for the story to go so each twist is in fact fairly predictable.

Wong Jing is a prolific writer, who occasionally writes terrible movies, and occasionally writes brilliant ones. This is neither. The problem is the twisty thriller is a bit tired as far as movie genres go. It's the sort of thing that might make it to late night cable, but rarely into theaters. About the best you can say for such a film is that it is clever. WISE GUYS NEVER DIE is clever, but it is not very good.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 03, 2007.


I skimmed past this in a Chinatown shop recently, figuring on getting it later (and cheaper), but your mention of Ben Ng as the Nick's jailhouse aggressor has me thinking I might spring for it a little sooner (though still not too soon), regardless of the reviews. Ben Ng just DOESN'T get enough work in higher-profile movies these days, not that this role sounds too far removed from every character he's played in every shot-on-video cheapie he's made in the past six or seven years.

Posted by: Brian Thibodeau at March 5, 2007 05:51 PM
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