Games Gamblers Play

Michael Hui was a well known HK personality who had appeared in a few comedies in the early 1970’s (The Warlord, Scandal, Sinful Confessions) for the Shaw Brothers, but he was best known for his TV work. He was in a sitcom and also the host of a variety show. In 1974 though he signed a contract with Golden Harvest to write, direct and act in his own films. His first film was Games Gamblers Play and it was a huge success at the box office.
Stephen Teo in his book Hong Kong – The Extra Dimensions – considers this film to be one of the more important films of the 1970’s for a few reasons.

One is that this is the first teaming up of two of the Hui Brothers – Ricky was to follow in a later film - and their style of buddy comedy was to become vastly popular for the next ten years.

Secondly, Hui was the first local star of his generation to become a big success. He brought with him a fresh attitude of innovation and irreverence.

Finally, Hui’s success brought back Cantonese as a viable cinema language. With the Mandarin focus of the Shaw films and much of TV being done in Mandarin, Cantonese had fallen into disfavor. Hui loved using the Cantonese language for comedic effect.

But setting aside its historical significance how does the film fare on its own merits? I have to admit to not really finding it all that funny. Perhaps my expectations were too high after having read about it, but I kept finding myself thinking – “now its going to start getting funny”, but it never clicks into high gear. It’s not painful by any means – and it does have a few mirthful moments – and the actors are charming – but it never gets on a comedy roll. There are situations that seem to have been set up for comedic hijinks, but they always fall short of their potential or end before they really get going.

One reason that I might not have found it all that humorous was possibly due to the language difference. Hui is considered a master of wordplay and it’s very likely that these were lost in the translation – but there is not much I can do about judging that.

Michael Hui and his brother Sam play two fellows who meet in jail. Michael is a real conman and Sam has aspirations to be one. When they get out of prison they decide to team up and take on the world. As Sam says, “how can we fail?” For lots of reasons actually! Sam gets taken almost immediately in mahjong by Betty Ting Pei (the actress in whose apartment Bruce Lee died) who it turns out is Michael’s mistress.

Betty Ting Pei
Sam isn’t a real natural at this game of swindling. One time he gets himself into a card game with three guys and feels very proud of himself for switching three cards with ones in his sock. Unfortunately, he had failed to notice that the backs of the cards were different colors than the playing cards. This leads to him getting a shellacking.
Sam and Michael Hui
One of the funnier bits was a parody of game shows – in which the contestants are asked questions. When they answer incorrectly they are further lowered into a pool of crocodiles. The runner-up prize is a week with a female escort and the curtain opens up to reveal this beauty – and I’m thinking runner-up sounds pretty damn good - until the camera zooms in and she opens her mouth !
The two of them keep going for scores – never really ever learning any lessons – and finally decide to go for the big one.

There are cameos from Dean Shek as the crooked croupier, Roy Chiao as the fellow with the meter problem and James Wong as the game show host. Sam Hui who was a very popular singer contributes a few catchy tunes to the soundtrack.