From Vegas to Macau III is the big Chinese New Year release this year, and I figured I might as well go see it — I suffered through the first two films, why not smack myself in the crotch a third time? Sooner or later it won’t hurt, right?
If there’s such a thing as franchise drift, From Vegas to Macau is the best example this side of The Fast and the Furious. The series is written and directed by Wong Jing, master of the expensive, incoherent, unfunny comedy. Every installment is getting farther from whatever thin premise defined the first film.
The first From Vegas to Macau (2014) was basically a broad parody of God of Gamblers (1989), with Chow Yun Fat playing supernaturally gifted gambler Ken Shek. Of course, Chow was also the star of God of Gamblers, so that’s part of the joke. While Chow’s character in God of Gamblers, Ko Chun, was debonair, Ken is an overwrought idiot. The plot of From Vegas to Macau, such as it was, had to do with Ken challenging the head of a criminal syndicate to a gambling match, for reasons I don’t remember. The movie ended with Ko Chun actually showing up at Ken’s mansion, making this series yet another sub-series of God of Gamblers.
From Vegas to Macau II (2015) ditched most of the supporting cast of the first movie, and followed the general template of a heist movie, or a James Bond outing. It introduced Nick Cheung as Ken’s new protege Mark, and Carina Law as Ken’s doomed former lover turned homicidal villain.
From Vegas to Macau III (co-directed by Andrew Lau) opens in a science fiction laboratory, complete with a wall of brains in jars and equipment shooting lightning. The owner of the lab is mad scientist/arms dealer J.C. (Jacky Cheung in a bad wig), and he has Carina Law’s character’s dead body floating in the middle of an energy sphere in his lab, because he’s also in love with her. He intends to bring her back to life, so of course when he rants aloud about a classic movie his current situation resembles, that movie is… King Kong. This movie is sooooo dumb.
Ken, meanwhile, is overseeing his daughter’s wedding to some guy who was probably important in the the second movie, but I don’t remember for sure. It hardly matters, because the wedding is blown up by a robot bomb impersonating Michael a.k.a. “Little Knife” (Andy Lau) from the original God of Gamblers. The bride and bridegroom are hospitalized, and Ken is rendered even more of an idiot than usual thanks to a combination of a head injury he gets in the blast and the Vegas-style stage hypnotism Mark was using to keep Ken from freaking out at the thought of his daughter not needing him anymore. For some reason Ken and Mark are arrested, and immediately thrown in jail. Their stay in prison may be a parody of Prison on Fire (1987), another Chow Yun Fat movie from his early career, but I’m not sure. Eventually a huge musical number breaks out, but it’s interrupted by J.C.’s army of Halo cosplayers attacking the prison, who are in turn interrupted by the real Little Knife dropping through the ceiling to kill them all.
Everyone goes to hide out in Little Knife’s mansion in Singapore. And by everyone I mean Ken (still brain-addled, and now convinced he’s a character from Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre), Mark, Little Knife, Ken’s robot butler Stupid, Little Knife’s robot maid Skinny, Ko Chun’s niece(?) Fei (Yuchun Li), the meathead son of Lung from God of Gamblers (played by the actual son of former studio head and suspected triad boss Charles Heung, who also cameos as Lung), and apparent Inspector Gadget parody Only Yu (Law Kar-Ying, his character named for The Platters’ song the actor is famous for singing). Cue long, unfunny scenes with Chow Yun Fat mugging the camera, Only Yu explaining unworkable gadgets Q-style, robot servants flirting, and Mark hitting on Fei. This last one is confusing to me, because I could have sworn Mark had a wife and young daughter in the previous film. The screening I saw had subtitles, but they weren’t great and I’m sure I missed a lot of the finer points of what was going on. Also, Nick Cheung is nearly 20 years older than Yunchun Li, so it was creepy that the movie was pushing that relationship.
After a while J.C. just shows up and challenges everyone to a ping pong match. J.C. uses his electrical powers (oh yeah, he has electrical powers) to beat everyone, but Ko Chun shows up and J.C. leaves after inviting everyone to a charity gambling event on his secret island.
For reasons I’m sure I missed Ken decides that the best way to sneak everyone on to the island is for Ken to impersonate Ko Chun, and so we get an extended parody of the most famous scenes from God of Gamblers. There’s a mahjong match with a couple of characters who are probably from some other Wong Jing films, a dice match against a tattooed woman, and finally the big card game against J.C. My excitement at seeing Chow Yun Fat finally playing Ko Chun (or, Ken pretending to be Ko Chun, but you get the idea) for more than a cameo was undercut just a little by the fact that the card game is joined by another character played by Psy, the Korean rapper who performed Gingham Style, and that the game they were playing was an idiosyncratic three person card game from China called Fighting the Landlord. And really, that’s what really annoyed me the most about this movie. Instead of this stupid non-sequitur comedy, if you’re going to make a movie where Ko Chun is a major character, why not make an actual gosh-darned God of Gamblers movie instead?
The final act of the movie devolves into a series of big dumb action set pieces inspired by Hollywood blockbusters as most of the main characters infiltrate the lower levels of J.C.’s secret base. Little Knife fights a bunch of his robot doppelgangers, Stupid and Skinny fight a bunch of Transformers inspired robots, and when Stupid is destroyed Mark wears his remains like an Iron Man armor to finish the fight. Ken is captured by J.C. and has to confront the mad scientist over the corpse of his dead lover.
The movie ends with an insufferably self-congragulatory Lunar New Year party, featuring nearly the entire cast. The cast and crew obviously think they’ve created a guaranteed hit, and for all I know they’re right. But as a movie it was chore to sit through, no matter how fantastic the cast was. At least there was a Mazinger Z joke.