22 March 2012 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: Mr and Mrs Gambler
Like him or loathe him, Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Jing is prolific in his output of films, that in his heydays had made some classics in the form of countless of comedies to chase the blues away, and just about produced a lot of other crass mass entertainers as well. Who would have thought that Wong was responsible for God of Gamblers starring Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau and Joey Wong, which had spun countless of copycat productions from the serious to the insanely comedic, some of which got made by Wong Jing himself too. You cannot deny that the filmmaker has gambling in his DNA, and over the years just had to scratch that itch and make a movie related to it time and again.
And so we have Mr and Mrs Gambler, a surprising comedy not about how opposites attract, but this union being ordained by Lady Luck herself in having two lovers meet as enemies first, before having their intense similarities pull them toward each other much against the laws of nature. Chapman To plays Shu Qi, a man given a woman sounding name by his folks, who has an incurable habit as a serial gambler, so much so that even when having sex (that was unceremoniously snipped by the local censors) he has to refer to his horse racing manual for intense pleasure. Fiona Sit plays Flora, an equally compulsive gambler who crosses Shu Qi's path when she cuts into his cab and caused him heavy losses when he was unable to place his winning bets on time. They meet in Macau, and after being locked up by loan sharks, fall in love, although mostly to satisfy their respective ulterior motives since they are after all, analyzers of odds.
As with any Wong Jing film, comedy takes centerstage no matter how irrelevant and outrageous the situations conjured may be. The mo-lei-tau jokes work best when they come from the blind side and are totally taken out of context. springing up with the jokes hitting their intended mark. The story and narrative is really lightweight where we see how the Mr and Mrs come together, and the various encounters that come to threaten their marriage especially since their combination of the Luck factor meant they become a lot more successful as a married couple together - Shu Qi becomes an acclaimed, award winning actor while Flora enjoys and sustains a successful gambling streak without much effort - than they were singletons apart.
There are plenty to laugh about in the movie given the many comedic moments providing the bandwidth for mirth, and one of the running gags in the film involves the character spoof of Wang Jing Wei, an obvious play and dig at Wong Kar-Wai, the anti-thesis and opposite of Wong Jing, with his sunshades and incessant cigarette smoke, work ethics and directing philosophy making it all unmistakably obvious as nasty jibes at the acclaimed director. But I enjoyed the scenes tremendously (I admit to the guilty pleasure here), even if Wong's The Grandmasters continue in getting its trailer spoofed ad nausem by many Hong Kong comedies just because and despite of having the film still being stuck in post production limbo, with rumours that it will finally bow in Cannes later this year.
Chapman To and Fiona Sit may not necessarily be A-listers in today's Hong Kong cinema, but when played to their strengths they have tremendous screen presence and are able to aptly carry the film on their shoulders. Comedy seems to be their forte and their comic timing didn't disappoint, and being really game at playing out tons of self-depreciative jokes or to survive on the relentless insults dished out by the other party. And it's not easy given Wong Jing's usual arsenal of jokes that tap from body parts and reach new levels of low with their crassness. But the writer-director this time had a soft spot put into his character creations, and seem to be rather pro-family with the blip in family relations tackled by the need to keep the family unit together and keep the child oblivious to the couple's degrading relationship (but in true Wong Jing fashion he won't pass up an opportunity for laughs here, and I thought there were some very pointed comments made at foreign workers).
It's always hit and miss for any typical Wong Jing film of recent years, and thankfully Mr and Mrs Gambler falls in the realm of a hit. Again one will drool at how much more fun this will be if allowed to be screened in Cantonese. Recommended to anyone seeking out a comedic film to chase those work blues away.