God of Gamblers is a Hong Kong action comedy-drama written and directed by Wong Jing. The first film was released in 1989 and was a big success at the box office, making 37,000,000 HKD. Ultimately, its popularity with the Hong Kong cinema crowd led onto a series of sequels, prequels and spin offs. So what is this franchise all about, and is it worth your precious viewing time?
The film follows Ko Chun, a world famous gambler, known as the “God of Gamblers”. He is on a mission to win a poker game against the villain, Chan Kam-Sing. On his journey to this eventual conclusion, he collides with Little Knife, a small time hustler and poker player who idolizes the God.
As the God’s identity is secret, Little Knife does not realize who he’s just met. Ko Chun falls into a practical joke that Little Knife has set for his neighbor, and Chun is badly brain damaged – reverting to a childlike state. Little Knife takes him in and soon realizes that he has a natural aptitude for poker.
Without giving the complete storyline away, we should say that there are some fantastic fight scenes, moments of great comedy, and plenty of twists and turns. For many, this is one of Jing’s better pieces of directing, and Chow Yun-fat pulls off a difficult feat of playing two totally different characters convincingly.
Billed as a comedy-action flick, this film sometimes feels at odds with itself. For some parts you may feel like you’re watching a classic Hong Kong comedy, such as Heart of the Dragon, at others you are wowed with violent and lengthy choreographed shoot-outs. No matter how you feel about this combination, one thing is for sure, the poker scenes are a work of genius. Stylish, funny and exciting, these moments are full of twists and amazing card tricks. They do not only serve the topic of the film, but they also act as a cinematic device to learn more about our characters.
Throughout the film, the approach that our characters take to cards says an awful lot about them. None is more striking than in the final scene between Ko Chun and Chan Kam-Sing. If you know anything about poker and the strategies that can be applied to it, you’ll know that having winning cards is but a tiny part of the gameplay itself. In the final showdown, Sing and Chun are playing a physiological game, both trying to push each other to tilt – the poker industry term for when an opponent is so emotional that you can use these emotions against them.
Sing is our villain, and he’s not playing according to the rules in more than one way. Our God, Chun, could easily fall into the tilt, as he is playing for revenge. Instead, he remains calm and uses deflections and clever tricks of his own, like faking his tell, to fool Sing into losing more money. It’s a battle of good versus evil both in terms of live action and gaming action, and our hero wins with ultimate skill and one-upmanship. You can see this theme run throughout the franchise: no matter how far they stray from the original, gambling is the core driver.
Sequels, Prequels and Spin offs
If you watched God of Gamblers and get a taste for it, there is a long series of official and unofficial films that follow it.
In chronological order you have:
- All for the Winner
- God of Gamblers 2
- God of Gamblers 3: Back to Shanghai
- Return of the God of Gamblers
- God of Gamblers 3: The Early Stage
- From Vegas to Macau
- From Vegas to Macau 2
- From Vegas to Macau 3
There are even some lesser known spin-offs that we have not mentioned.
The franchise has racked up quite a lot of box office bucks! Although these are not all true sequels, the characters and themes run throughout. Most of them keep you entertained with a mix of action, comedy and pleasing gambling scenes.
All for the Winner
All for the Winner is the first unofficial spin-off and was the highest grossing film in Hong Kong history at the time it was released. The film really cashed in on the God of Gamblers’ success, and although it is nowhere near as classy as its inspiration, it does have a number great action scenes – which is no surprise seeing as it is co-directed by Yuen Kwai.
God of Gamblers 2
God of Gamblers 2 was the first official sequel, however, it doesn’t start the God himself. Rather confusingly, this film is also a spinoff of All for the Winner and features some of the same characters. Here we follow Little Knife in his journey to become “the Knight of Gamblers.” Andy Lau and Chow Yun Fat, playing Sing, have a great chemistry in this film, and it’s definitely sillier than God of Gamblers. Which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your mood.
God of Gamblers 3: Back to Shanghai
God of Gamblers 3: Back to Shanghai gets truly weird, and here there is even some time travel involved! We’ve now moved on to “the Saint of Gamblers” (Sing), who is played by Chow from the previous film. There is a nice transition between these first four films, with the same characters popping up in all of them.
You can now move onto the true sequel to the original film, Return of the God of Gamblers. The God of Gamblers is back, played again by Chow Yun-fat. Little Knife and Sing are also back, but they are now the Knight and Saint, and great poker players in their own right. It’s nice to see the series move through and follow storylines, however, this one has far more comedy sequences and is less slick than the first – this was probably done to keep in line with the previous films.
Next is God of Gamblers 3: The Early Stage
God of Gamblers 3: The Early Stage is a prequel to the first film. This is actually one of the best films in the series. Here we see Ko Chun betrayed by his partners and using his greatest skill, gambling, to get his revenge against them. What really stands out in this film are the action sequences, which are brilliant.
If you still feel like you have some more room for gambling-based action, you can watch the From Vegas to Macau series. There are three so far, and Chow Yun-fat is back starring in them, albeit as a new character. These films have much bigger budgets as they were co-produced by China’s Bona International Film Group. The action scenes are longer and obviously have bigger budgets, and there’s far more traveling involved. This has put some viewers off but was met with the excitement of others.
We’re unsure if Wong Jing realized the success his first film would have, and how it would spin off into so many fractions. These are not all excellent examples of Hong Kong cinema, however, they do all feature some great action, comedy, actors and gambling scenes to rival the best poker films out there.