The Cheaters

Reviewed by YTSL

For some reason, 2001 was a lean movie year for some of my favorite Hong Kong actors; with Leslie Cheung and Takeshi Kaneshiro not appearing in a single film between them, and Jordan Chan reportedly being so frustrated at having been offered such slim pickings in terms of roles as to have seriously contemplated fully concentrating on his singing career.  Hopefully, 2002 will bring all of these charismatic performers more and better cinematic offers and opportunities.  In the meantime, after viewing the single Y2K1 work in which he appeared, this admirer of Jordan Chan can at least understand why the gravel-voiced actor-singer -- who had been in seven films (including two quite different Milkyway Image productions and a couple of high profile “Young and Dangerous” offerings) the year before -- might have arrived at the decision that I’m hoping that he hasn’t really made.

Put another way: Even while THE CHEATERS is not an entirely bad effort (and actually has a quite exciting center portion), that which I was hoping would be far more action packed or filled with three-dimensional characters than it in fact was most definitely is one which would have deservedly sunk without a trace if it didn’t have the quite solid cast that it did.  Instead, as things stood, I often felt that this Billy Chung directed crime drama -- one of whose scriptwriters is the same Edmond Pang whose novel was made into the “Full-Time Killer” movie that I wanted to love but ended up not enjoying much at all -- was a film whose makers were often detrimentally trying way too hard to make it -- and its protagonists -- come across as clever plus “cool”.

Indeed, THE CHEATERS played by Jordan Chan (whose overly familiar “rough diamond” character is named Wo Tin Bo), Alex Fong (who gave a generally disappointingly low key performance as Lok), Chapman To (who sometimes looked out of his depth as Wong Chi Wai), Hern Lam (whose Elsa character seemed to mainly function as window dressing plus be there to provide Lok with a love interest) and Ken Wong (whose portrayal of Tong Ka Chun lacked a certain something to be memorable) -- with whom the viewers’ sympathies look like they were supposed to lie -- collectively came across as good-looking as well as ever-scheming but not particularly smart nor all that clear thinking.  Consequently, it seemed only inevitable that many of this hardly close-knit group of swindlers -- who were “small potatoes” when compared to such as the quietly menacing man variously known as Cow, Lun Yan plus the “king of ghosts” (who was effectively portrayed by Simon Loui) -- would be fated to not be able to lead long lives as well as end up being majorly cheated by someone else at some point; this not least after they dangerously decided to piggyback onto Cow’s major league fraud attempt in order to get one truly big money pay-off before permanently halting their unscrupulous activities.

At one point in the movie, one (supporting) character enquires “Who doesn’t want to be a superstar?  Why do I have to be an extra?”  At the risk of belaboring a point here, I really do feel compelled to emphasize that appearing in a run-of-the-mill effort like THE CHEATERS is hardly going to help the career of anyone; especially those -- and I’m thinking here of Alex Fong (who pretty much single-handedly made “Cheap Killers” worth watching, IMHO, but was more under-employed here than in other 2001 works like “Sharp Guns” and “City of Desire”) as well as Jordan Chan -- who had shown in other films that they clearly have abilities that ought to have gotten them better showcases than this noticeably not very big budget offering whose biggest crime, like that of its fast and flashy car loving main characters, might well be that it was too ambitious for its own good.

It thus seemed to have been a smart move on character actor Ng Chi Hung’s part to only briefly show his face in this ultimately not especially original work (as someone who gets conned of HKS$705,000 in a single evening of Monopoly game playing by the gang of four conmen and one conwoman).  Then there’s the fact of former Miss Hong Kong Sonja Kwok’s Michelle character’s positively enigmatic quality surely getting enhanced in large part by her actually not being in the picture all that much.  In any case, this (re)viewer’s overall verdict with regards to THE CHEATERS is that even fans of the movie’s stars will not feel all that satisfied with a viewing of that whose convoluted but thin plot contained too many unnecessary, if not inexplicable, double-crossings of never entirely bad people who therefore arguably deserved better.

My rating for this film:  5.5 (but minus 1 point if you find none of its main actors appealing)