God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai

Reviewed by YTSL

Less than a year after appearing in “God of Gamblers II”, Stephen Chow, Ng Man Tat, Charles Heung and -- just very briefly -- Cheung Man show up once more in an offering that’s really a second sequel in name only to the 1989 production that established Chow Yun-Fat as the chocolate eating God of Gamblers.  Unencumbered this time around by the presence of Andy Lau’s Knight of Gamblers (as well as Ko Chun himself), Hong Kong’s box office King of Comedy is free to cut loose and show off his personalized “mo lei tau” schtick.  How far away he -- and director cum scriptwriter Wong Jing -- takes this effort from archetypal gambling movie territory can be amply illustrated by the 1991 film’s highlight section consisting of an exuberant “char siew pau (barbecued pork buns)” song and dance sequence rather than a tense gaming table stand off.

Then there’s the unconventional -- to say the least -- time travelling that sends the “Saint of Gamblers” (AKA Stephen Chow’s Chow Sing Cho character), his Uncle (Ng Man Tat is referred to as Third Uncle in this work rather than Uncle Tat, like previously), his cellular phone (which somehow still is able to connect with Sing’s real era) and a Communist Chinese gambling rival of his (named Tai Kun) back to 1937 Shanghai.  As the magical ability endowed Sing belatedly found out, the exercising of his “highest level of power changes time and space”.  Thus, although the first fifteen minutes or so of GOD OF GAMBLERS III:  BACK TO SHANGHAI is set in 1991 Hong Kong, much of this fantastical movie -- one in which master gamblers have the capacity to see through solid objects and make other people hallucinate as well as perform all sorts of card tricks -- actually takes place 54 years earlier and a few hundred miles to the north.

Ng Man Tat, Stephen Chow, Gong Li, Barry Wong and Charles Heung
Early on in the film, Sing and his Uncle had to fend off the attack of a revenge seeking opponent and five of the man’s friends.  In 1937 Shanghai, Sing has more and bigger problems to contend and deal with.  Apart from the obvious one of trying to get back to his own time (and place), he has to:  Find -- and also rescue -- his Uncle; help out some new found friends (one of whom, Chow Tai Bok, is the spitting image of his Uncle and turns out to be his grandfather; another of whom, Ding Lik, is -- as one might expect from his being played by square-jawed Ray Lui -- the premier honorable Triad in the city – Ray Lui played the same character in the famous TV series The Bund during the 1980’s); and go up against the traitorous Kawashima Yoshiko -- a Manchurian princess who was in cahoots with the Japanese invading force -- along with the two master gamblers under her employ (one of whom is a legendary Frenchman who Sing just happened to have read about prior to his accidental time travel; the other of whom is his old enemy, Tai Kun).
Chow, Yeung Ching-ching, Ray Lui, John Ching Tung and Jimmy Lee
Along the way, Sing also gets involved in what initially appears to be a love triangle that involves a schizophrenic acting woman named Yu San (who, apart from being the mayor’s daughter, also turns out to be Ding Lik’s betrothed).  Matters get simultaneously clarified yet also complicated with the revelation of the rather “proper” Yu San having a twin sister named Yu Mong (who has but the mentality of a five-year-old.  Amusingly, both Yu Mong and Yu San are played by Gong Li).  In general, GOD OF GAMBLERS III:  BACK TO SHANGHAI’s story is given lots of twists and turns by way of more than one individual turning out to not to be as they initially seem(ed).
Gong Li, Sandra Ng, Wong Wan-si and Chow
Lest it be thought otherwise, here’s pointing out that GOD OF GAMBLERS III:  BACK TO SHANGHAI contains a lot of action and comedy as well as some romance and intrigue.  While its story may be complex sounding, the sense I get is that a lot less time was spent worrying over whether all of its various strands seamlessly came together and made much logical sense than on ensuring that this Jimmy Heung production’s many action sequences -- for which Yuen Shun-Yi, Yuen Cheung Yan and Guk Hin Chiu were the overseers -- were funny and/or spectacular plus that there was ample opportunity and space to fit in a whole assortment of madcap routines, deeds, behavior and jokes (including prime ones featuring the late Barry Wong reprising his role in Fight Back to School as Inspector “Scissors Legs” Wong and Wong Jing himself as one of the Inspector’s police colleagues).
For the record, GOD OF GAMBLERS III:  BACK TO SHANGHAI did very well at the box office, raking in a total of HK$31,363,730.  This notwithstanding, I have to admit to not being all that blown away by an exceedingly busy offering that -- despite its outlandish premise and possession of certain undeniably amusing touches -- seems to have a somewhat generic and tired overall feel to it.  Perhaps this sentiment was shared by Stephen Chow himself.  If so, it might not be pure coincidence that he does not grace the two movies after this one which also have the words “God of Gamblers” in their titles.

My rating for this film:  6.5

Reviewed by Brian

I will agree with YTSL that the pork bun musical sequence performed in a McDonalds like fast food pork bun eatery was the highlight of the film, but I found much of the remainder of the story to be highly entertaining as well. Like many of Chow’s films this one started off a bit slowly for me, but from the halfway mark on it turns into an utterly delicious concoction of comedy, action, fantasy and romance. It switches as smoothly and quickly between these different genres as a racecar driver does lanes. There are a number of lovely comedic sequences – my favorites being Ng Man Tat’s unsuccessful attempts to kill Ding Lik and the exchange between Ng and Chow about how effeminate Ng is – “no I am a triad” “yes an effeminate triad” “no – I am a top killer” “yes an effeminate triad killer” – but also a number of action scenes in which Chow gets to display his terrific athletic skills. In one scene he takes on Billy Chow that is great fun as he telephones into the future for fight advice.

The supporting cast is excellent – John Ching Tung reprises his role from God of Gamblers II as Tai Kun, Jimmy Lee/Lung Fong is the odious right-hand man to Wong Wan-si’s Kawashima Yoshiko, Tien Feng as the Mayor, Yeung Ching-ching as the killer female working for Ding Lik and Sandra Ng as Chow’s future grandmother. Often too icy for my taste, Gong Li is a lovely revelation here as she plays twins – one beautiful and haughty and the other an adorable giggling child like woman. It’s a pleasure watching her let her hair down and have some fun for a change and even join in on the Pork Bun song!

For me at least, the best Chow films are ones that integrate his humor with a thick layer of nostalgic sweetness and a large chunk of sentiment. Here he peppers the comedic madcap antics with large doses of both and produces this very enjoyable treat of a film.

For those who are as much a fan as I am of the Pork Bun Song, here are the English lyrics from this film.

Pork buns
Who loves pork buns most?
Who loves freshly baked pork buns
And lotus buns, lard buns, shark fin buns
Smashed bean buns, Guangdong buns
If you don’t like Guangdong buns
Then try the Shanghai buns

They’re also steamed bread, pork buns
Little steamed bread vegetable buns
My friend which one would you taste
No matter which one you will taste
Guangdong buns, Shanghai buns
Some like Guangdong buns
Pork Buns!

The song can also be found being sung charmingly by Nina Li in Four Loves and a small snippet of it in the Cinema City film, Chasing Girls. If anyone knows of any other instance please let me know.

Here are the lyrics from Four Loves:

Barbecued pork buns
Hot barbecued pork buns
Lotus seed paste buns
Cantonese buns
Let me tell you about pork buns
Vegetable buns, my friends

My rating for this film: 7.5, 10 for the Pork Bun song!

DVD Information:

Distributed by Mei Ah

The transfer is quite disappointing - it is full screen and the subs often run off the screen. The picture itself is watchable with a tiny bit of speckling and though not very sharp the colors are fine.

NOT Letterboxed

Cantonese language track only.

There is no menu - thus no Chapters or any other extras.

The subtitles are burnt on Chinese and English.