SPOILERS!!! The original God of Gamblers became an instant classic and revived the genre of gambling films in HK filmdom, thanks in no small part to the star power of Chow Yun Fat. Several years and a couple of series installments without CYF, Wong Jing was able to lure this superstar back for another adventure of Ko Chun, and God of Gamblers Return is the result of that effort.
Wong Jing had the unenviable task in this film, of being true to the original material, but striving to tell a fresh story. It is a goal that was admirably achieved as God of Gamblers Return is true to the spirit of the original film, but covers new territory, resulting in an entertaining foray into the further adventures of Ko Chun, The God of Gamblers.
The film features an impressive cast of supporting players, (including the returning Charles `Mr. Dragon' Heung, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Jacqueline Ng, Elvis Tsui, Chigamy Yau, Ken Lo and the precocious Miu Tse), a large budget and lush production values.
The action picks up four years after the original film. Ko Chun is how happily retired, living the good life in France with his pregnant wife, Yau (played by Man Cheung who portrayed the ill-fated Janet in GoG). Mr. Dragon--now referred to by Ko Chun as `God of Gun' as a sign of his gratitude for his past services--comes to visit his old friend and boss to apprise him of the latest developments in the gambling underworld that Ko has left behind. At the same time, the `Devil of Gamblers' --a truly vicious villain--is rounding on his retired rival, his goal to draw the God of Gamblers out of retirement by any means possible, in order to humiliate him at the gaming tables.
While Ko Chun and Dragon engage in a little target practice and male bonding in another part of the estate, Devil of Gamblers arrives at the Ko mansion and begins killing everyone in sight. When a wounded servant arrives to warn Ko Chun and Dragon, the two race back to the mansion and engage in a fierce battle with the Devil's henchmen.
While his lackeys are being mowed down, Devil of Gamblers is ensuring his rivals undying hatred by murdering Ko's unborn son and leaving his wife to slowly bleed to death from having the child ripped from her womb. Ko finds his dying wife as the Devil makes his exit. She extracts a promise from her husband that he will forestall his vengeance for one year, during which time he will neither gamble nor admit his identity as the God of Gamblers. Ko Yau hopes to preserve her husband's life with these promises, feeling that his rage and hunger for vengeance will subside in that year, and he will not be drawn to what she fears will be his death.
The action moves ahead to eleven months later. Ko Chun has abided by his wife's wishes-- he has been touring the world, alone and incognito. In mainland China, having just finished a tour of the Silk Road, he meets and befriends Hoi On, a jovial family man, who, it happens to turn out, is the head of the Taiwan casino empire that Devil of Gamblers also works for and is trying to subvert . Ko Chun, ducking photographs and not revealing his own identity per his promise, joins Hoi on his family yacht for an evening of fellowship and entertainment.
Hoi On is betrayed by one of his own henchman, played to perfection by Jackie Chan's bodyguard/kickboxing champion Ken Lo. The henchman masterminds a raid on Hoi On's yacht to rob the wealthy man. The gambit concludes with Hoi On and most of his family dead, the yacht in ruins. The only survivors--Ko Chun and Hoi's son Hoi Yuen. Ko has promised the dying man to see that the boy gets home to Taiwan to be reunited with his sister. Jumping from the burning ship with little more than their lives, Ko and the boy are almost immediately arrested by the mainland police who do not buy their story of being the victims of the crime, not its perpetrators.
They fall into the hands of brutal mainland police and are abused and beaten before being shown a small measure of mercy by the Police Captain (played with alternating menace and hilarity by Elvis Tsui)--mercy which proves short lived. They manage to escape the police compound and become refugees in the countryside, eventually landing at the hotel run by Sui Yui-yui who spends her time mooning over the only known photograph of God of Gamblers (which features him from the rear only) her idol. She dreams that he will come to her and they will dance together. Little does she realize that her daydream has come to pass, so instead she makes life as difficult as possible for Ko Chun and the boy--refusing them service in the dining room, faking sex phone chat chatter when Ko tries to call Dragon, and otherwise being obnoxious.
Also being obnoxious is Hoi Yueh, the casino mogul's son, who blames Ko Chun for leaving his father behind--refusing to believe his father was already dead. The precocious lad also turns to out be a budding gambler, who, while Ko fights with Yiu-Yiu to get an outside long distance phone line, goes off to gamble, hoping to increase his money. This puts him in the clutches of Yiu-Yiu's brother, Fong-fong aka `Little Trumpet' (Tony Leung Ka fai in hilarious form) a small time hustler who cheats any and all comers with his rigged games. Finding the boy, who has just lost all his money, Ko Chun goes to have a face off with Little Trumpet. All the while staying true to his promise to his wife not to gamble, Ko Chun hypnotizes the miscreant into losing all his money in a rematch with the boy.
Soon however, the police, who have been in hot pursuit, appear on the scene and Ko Chun, Hoi Yuen and the Sui siblings are all on the run together.
They manage to turn the tide long enough to take the Police Captain as a hostage and make their escape from the mainland aboard the boat of a smuggler-cum-nationalist party-secret agent Condor, the captain still in tow. A fierce communist while in mainland waters, the police captain turns budding capitalist once they land in Taiwan.
Hoi Yuen is nearly reunited with his sister, when Devil of Gamblers appears and kidnaps the boy, luring his sister and Ko Chun and company to the huge casino.
He has intelligence that tells him that one of the newly arrived party is God of Gamblers, but since no photos exist, he cannot determine which. In an attempt to rescue the boy, Ko Chun and company follow the bait and face off with the Devil and his minions in the casino.
But two days are left of Ko Chun's promise to his dying wife. He cannot reveal himself until that time is up. He is able to win the boy's release by an elaborate pretense, wherein Little Trumpet takes on the persona of God of Gamblers and Ko Chun masquerades as God of Gamblers disciple--Knife. Chow Yun Fat's turn at mimicking Andy Lau's portrayal of the `Knight of Gamblers' is dead on and hilarious--right down to his Knife's distinctive walk and mode of dress. Tony Leung Ka Fai's aping of Ko Chun is side splitting entertainment--and convincing enough that Hoi's daughter tries to seduce the faux God of Gamblers to great entertainment value. Elvis Tsui gets into the spirit of things by posing as, in his turn, the God of Gun, Mr. Dragon, until the original appears on the scene. His characters voyage from party apparachik to enthusiastic capitalist and fervent Ko Chun follower is uproarious.
The ruse buys the time needed. But Devil of Gamblers is not yet done. Before the 48 hours are up, he will attempt to draw Ko Chun out again by more murder and mayhem. Sui Yui-Yui is its victim, dying before she can know for certain that her idol has indeed swept into her life and before she can claim her dance with him.
The violence is prologue to the final showdown at the gaming tables between Devil of Gamblers and God of Gamblers. The face off is a tense, well paced gambling segment that managed to top the original God of Gambler endgame for sheer knuckle biting, edge of the seat viewing.
Chow Yun Fat puts his enormous charisma and star power to good use in this film. While once again for most of the film he is `out of uniform' playing Ko Chun in mufti, here we see not the childlike idiot savant of the first film but a man haunted by the tragedies that have shattered his life, using the one means at his disposal to exact his revenge. His portrayal of Ko Chun is at turns touching (as he ministers to the sick Hoi Yuen on the voyage to Taiwan by humming the boy a lullaby; as he attempts to comfort the dying Yui Yui while maintaining his promise to his late wife);--chilling (as he exacts revenge on those who have violated his home and privacy and killed his wife and unborn child); hilarious (impersonating Knife); and masterful (as the God of Gamblers who truly lives up to his name).
Those expecting a replay of the elements that made God of Gamblers a classic will be disappointed by the sequel. However, if one enters the viewing of the film with a determination not to prejudge the film based on memories of the original, they will find a well crafted story which provides a satisfying further adventure of a compelling character.