Best watched under the carefree, festive influence of Chinese New Year, writer/director Jing Wong’s From Vegas to Macau is a flagrantly nutty confection that reunites him with his God of Gamblers leading man, Chow Yun-Fat (voicing in Cantonese for the first time in nearly two decades).
a hit-and-miss hybrid
Ostensibly an Oceans 11-type adventure set against the world of rigged card games, underworld heavies and fixed soccer matches, Wong frequently shifts between genres, often in the very middle of scenes. For example, a tense stand-off between undercover cops and gun-toting henchmen turns utterly silly when Chow’s 'Magic Hands’ Ken pulls a Michael Winslow and has them all ducking for cover with his machine-gun impersonation; and stealthy assassins invading Ken’s home are also dispatched by booby-traps that would make Wile E. Coyote roll his eyes.
Wong and Chow also gleefully reference James Bond and Fred Astaire in the protagonist, who is a lighter, more comedic spin on their enigmatic God of Gambler’s hero, Ko Chun. Although clearly showing his age, Chow hasn’t been so buoyant on screen in some time, committing just as much to the daft comedy and song-and-dance interludes as he does to skewering his trademark brooding hero archetype.
The plotting here is meagre, to say the least. Ken and his offsiders, Cool (a stodgy Nicholas Tse) and Karl (another buffoonish caricature from Chapman To) take on high-stakes racketeer Ko (Gao Hu, in fine bad-guy form) in a bid to free their family from the crime syndicate. The film unfolds as a series of card games between Ken and Ko with increasingly dangerous odds and unlikely scenarios, whilst Cool battles bad guys and woos Ken’s daughter, Rainbow (Kimmy Tong). The only other significant female role is that of pretty undercover cop Luo Xin, played by Jing Tian, whose major scene involves her fawning over our hero while battling the influence of a truth serum. Yes, truth serum. It’s one of many utterly preposterous devices Wong uses in the name of 'holiday entertainment’. Others include: a pack of metal playing cards that Ken wields like ninja-stars (the film is jarringly violent at times); a miniscule camera surgically implanted inside one character’s fingernails so they can 'read’ cards; and a cavernous room in which Rainbow can acrobatically soar on rubber rope (a sequence pilfered from the first Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film).
From Vegas to Macau is suitably slick by every production standard, with Wong dabbling in camera trickery, CGI and animation to draw the maximum thrills and giggles from every frame; the New Year cinematic tradition of fun cameos is well employed, with the likes of Sammy Sum, Tony Ho, Jane Wong, Natalie Meng Yao and Benz Hui all contributing. Nevertheless, it remains a hit-and-miss hybrid, dependent upon goodwill, broad schtick and star power above anything groundbreaking, comedy-wise, to raise a smile.