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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

P-P-P-Pokerface!

Poker King 01

Louis Koo and Lau Ching-Wan square off in Poker King

Two of Hong Kong’s top-rated actors  — Louis Koo and Lau Ching-Wan — face off in Poker King, a 2009 film from co-directors Chang Hing-Ka and Janet Chun, the team behind 2008’s La Lingerie and 2010’s La Comedie Humaine. However, whatever promise was held in the casting of these two likable, fairly frequent co-stars nearly gets squandered in the opening act of the film. I would imagine that the first ten to twenty minutes of Poker King would test the patience of even the most die-hard Hong Kong cinema fan. As the film wore on, I was starting to seriously question  why either of these guys agreed to do this movie in the first place. Characters are saddled with childish and annoying personalities, the plot seems to have zero forward momentum, and everything just oozes with the stench of lowbrow HK comedy cheese. Luckily for both the film and its prospective viewers, the film gets better, although I’m not sure it  makes a whole lot of sense.

 

Poker King 02

Jack (Louis Koo) and Smiley (Stephy Tang) want to hold ‘em like the do in Texas, please.

The plot (or what passes for one) goes like this — when a rich and powerful casino magnate kicks the bucket, it’s up to his son, Jack Chang (Louis Koo) to return to Macau from his self-appointed exile. It seems that sometime in the past Jack tried to escape his father’s shadow by fleeing to Canada, spending most of his days making a mint as an online poker player. Although Jack is the heir to the empire, there seem to be two major obstacles preventing him from assuming control: 1) the casino is being run by company president, Uno Cheuk (Lau Ching-Wan), the longtime righthand man of Jack’s now deceased father and 2) Jack seems incredibly unqualified to run the business — he may not be an idiot, but he sure acts like one.

The film then proceeds to meander along with little wit or energy, trying somehow to pit the unbelievably green and childlike Jack against the supremely qualified, but increasingly childish Uno Cheuk. Ultimately, a test of egos involving a game of poker allows Uno to obtain Jack’s remaining interest in the company. Jack may be an expert online player, but in person, he has several “tells” and can’t seem to read other players. This is a quality undesired by someone who wants to be both a card sharp and the owner of successful casino. Embarrassed, Jack leaves with his tail between his legs.

While Uno offers to lend a helping hand (although not nicely), Jack is unwilling to take the allowance his father set aside for him and tries to make it on his own, finding work in a little, out-of-the-way cookie shop.  While wandering a Macau casino, he meets Smiley (Stephy Tang), a young woman who is having quite the lucky streak. The two eventually decide to partner up, as Jack utilizes Smiley’s luck to win card game after card game. With Smiley and his co-worker-turned-pal Sean (a distractingly curly-haired Wong Yau Nam) by his side, Jack seeks the help of Ms. Fong (Josie Ho), a rival casino owner to stake him in a championship tournament of Texas Hold ‘Em so he can a) “take back what he has lost” and b) beat Uno Cheuk at his own game. The premise sounds simple, if improbable — but appearances aren’t quite what they seem.

Poker King tries to call to mind the glory days of HK gambling movies, particularly the funnier ones starring Stephen Chow as the Saint of Gamblers, as there are even two specific scenes that make reference to those earlier, better films. But try as it might, Poker King isn’t even close in caliber to these raucously funny gambling flicks. It’s overlong, unnecessarily slow, and pretty dumb — if you’re looking for a gambling film that has the panache of the Vegas-set Ocean’s 11 films or the Texas Hold’s em scenes in Casino Royale, you’ll be sorely disappointed. The movie improves to the level of vaguely entertaining diversion, but it would probably would’ve helped matters if Jack and Uno weren’t so annoying as characters.

And I don’t know if it’s supposed to be obvious, but it seemed to me that Uno’s endgame was telegraphed from very early on; perhaps that’s why Jack actually has some secrets you wouldn’t necessarily suspect  — the film basically gives away one “sting” to hide another. Too bad it doesn’t  make much sense. As to the supporting performances, Stephy Tang makes for a likable female lead, Cherrie Ying shows up as eye candy/love triangle plot device, and Lam Suet has a funny extended cameo. While it makes for a passable afternoon diversion, there’s little to recommend in Poker King.  While I thought Chang Hing-Ka and Janet Chun might have had an ace up their sleeves with Poker King, it turned out they weren’t playing with a full deck.

See what I did there? Okay, as a consolation for that joke, here’s a song you’ve probably never heard in your life, as well as Kozo’s review for the film.

One Response to “P-P-P-Pokerface!”

  1. Timo Says:

    I liked POKER KING a lot. Chun and Chan are the only ones turning out decent comedy fluff these days that’s not bottom-of-the-barrel like whatever Wong Jing craps out when he can be bothered.

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