God of Gamblers 3: The Early Stage



Reviewed by YTSL

Advance warning:  Those who don’t think that Leon Lai is half -- or even a quarter of -- the man, actor, screen presence, etc. that Chow Yun-Fat is ought to stay far away from this “God of Gamblers” prequel (that features not one but two suspenseful God of Gamblers competitions). This is because -- yep, you guessed it... -- the Cantopop Sky King has the role of Ko Chun in this 1996 work (To be precise, Leon Lai plays Ko Chun c. 1986 in a movie that also temporarily takes the story back to 1969 to fill in the biographical details of the man who Mr. Chow memorably portrayed in both the original “God of Gamblers” and its 1994 sequel, “God of Gamblers Returns”).  Alternatively, I reckon that even Charles Heung himself would have approved of -- and felt complimented by -- director, producer and scriptwriter Wong Jing’s choice of the very capable Jordan Chan as the man to portray a younger version of Loong Ng.

As someone who liked the earlier God of Gamblers films enough to want to check out the entire series, I appreciated that included in the GOD OF GAMBLERS 3:  THE EARLY STAGE were revelations re how Ko Chun came by his jade ring, like of the particular brand of chocolates that he likes to eat (even while gambling for big bucks) and choice of slick hair-style.  At the same time, because I don’t consider the previous G.O.G. movies to be all that sacrosanct, I didn’t mind that, in at least one particularly important and specific area (i.e., with regards to the details of when plus how Ko Chun and Loong Ng came to know each other), this offering is most definitely at odds with the first film. Similarly, neither was I really fussed by GOD OF GAMBLERS 3:  THE EARLY STAGE also containing certain episodes -- notably one in which Ko Chun gets shot in the head and starts acting like a child -- which could be seen as homages (or, more negatively, as lame repetitions) of events that occurred in that which raked in over HK$37 million at the local box office back when top ticket prices cost just HK$30 (See Paul Fonoroff’s “At the Hong Kong Movies”, 1998:597).
At the risk of offending fans of the first “God of Gamblers”, I’d additionally opine that this effort -- whose general plot lines should be so familiar as to not be worth spending time and space to detail (Suffice to say that the film does of course climax with a tense gambling contest that involves two rivals with more than just a professional grudge against each other) -- has a better (utilized) supporting cast.  E.g., even while it is admittedly so that Leon Lai didn’t seem to have much chemistry with either of this movie’s leading ladies, Anita Yuen (as an individual known as Miss Seven, who first laid eyes on Ko Chun when the both of them were young children) -- and also Cheung Tat Ming (as her sidekick, Ah So) -- it was who provided GOD OF GAMBLER 3:  THE EARLY STAGE with much of its comic relief while Gigi Leung (playing Kent Hing, the nimble fingered daughter of the man who raised Ko Chun to become a gambling ace) made for at least one pretty flower vase.
GOD OF GAMBLER 3:  THE EARLY STAGE undoubtedly additionally benefits from having Francis Ng play Ko Ngo, another talented card player who thinks that it is his due to be known as the best gambler in the world and wants to reap the rewards that come with being considered to be such.  Although Cheung Ging Fai is the least familiar name and face to me of those with significant parts to play in this surprisingly smooth-running work (particularly when compared to the similarly large ensemble work that was “God of Gamblers Returns”), I found him rather convincing as the Fagin-like Mr. Kent (whose name was surely an Anglicization of a Chinese name a la Pat Neil of “Peking Opera Blues”) who -- for a substantial period of time -- had Ko Ngo, Ko Chun and his daughter under his wing.  Further evidence of the acting depth to be found in this film comes by way of it also having such as:  Elvis Tsui as Miss Seven’s father, Chat Foo (who is first seen in the movie preying on amateur gamblers but “rose” to become a major Triad and owner of a chain of mahjong parlours); Ng Chi Hung as a Triad boss on whom Loong Ng gave an early demonstration of his martial prowess; and Moses Chan as a Indonesian expert gambler named Soto.
Without the quality cast (and high production values) that it has, GOD OF GAMBLERS 3:  THE EARLY STAGE would have been a pretty mediocre movie.  Even with all the star power that it possesses, it still lacks the pizazz and -- perhaps, particularly strangely enough for a Wong Jing work -- edginess that would have made it a stand out production.  To its credit though, it doesn’t venture squarely into the realm of major bad taste nor get as overly-bizarre as Wong Jing’s other contributions to this series (that -- depending on how people count them -- may or may not include the gambling movies that star Stephen Chow rather than Chow Yun-Fat).  All told, I honestly do think that this made for a more enjoyable cinematic offering (that still is not without a few interesting -- and not least because they actually seem plausible -- plot twists and developments of its own).

My rating for the film:  7.



DVD Information:

Distributed by Universe

The transfer is fairly good but not always as sharp as you might like it.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks.

8 Chapters

The subtitles are Chinese or English or none.

There is a trailer for this film - but no others.

There are bios for Leon Lai, Anita Yuen, Jordan Chan, Gigi Leung and Wong Jing.