THE GAMBLING GHOST (1991) review

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Mixing the ‘ghost comedy’ genre with which Sammo Hung had been quite successful in the eighties, with the gambling craze initiated by Wong Jing’s God of Gamblers in 1989, Clifton Ko’s The Gambling Ghost follows Fat Bo (Sammo Hung), a lowly valet who squanders what money he earns on misguided and startlingly unlucky gambling, much to the chagrin of his dour father (Sammo Hung again), whose own father (Sammo Hung, yet again) was a gambler himself and was killed by a mob boss. One day, the ghost of the grandfather appears and strikes a deal with his grandson : he’ll make him rich by helping him cheat at gambling and by using his ghostly powers to make him win the lottery, but in return Fat Bo must get revenge for him. The Gambling Ghost follows a familiar Hong Kong comedy pattern : a drawn-out, episodic start, which suddenly accelerates to an action-packed finale in the last third (here finely choreographed by Meng Hoi, who also plays Fat Bo’s gambling partner). And indeed, the idea of a ghost forcing a man into getting him revenge or closure is one that Sammo had already used in 1982’s The Dead and the Deadly and 1986’s Where’s Officer Tuba, and that he would again play out in 1992’s Ghost Punting.

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SLICKERS VS KILLERS (1991) short review

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Success Hung (Sammo Hung) is an accomplished phone salesman whose world is turned upside down in a matter of days as his wife (Yu Li) starts cheating on him with a young policeman (Collin Chou), while a fierce rival (Carol ‘Dodo’ Cheng) is assigned by his company to work with him, and he witnesses the murder of a mobster (Tommy Wong Kwong Leung) by two deranged hitmen (Jacky Cheung and Lam Ching Ying). Despite a enticing cast (Joyce Godenzi also stars as Hung’s therapist, while Richard Ng cameos as one of his customers), and Sammo Hung’s impressive credentials as a director, Slickers vs. Killers is scattershot and unfunny, basing its comedy on shrill, interminable bickering and an uncomfortable amount of jokes about rape. There’s too little action to relieve the comedy’s shortcomings, and the subplot involving Jacky Cheung’s demented murderer is jarringly dark. But most damningly, it all revolves around a set of wholly unlikable characters that are either selfish, deluded, deranged or all of the above, with the exception of the therapist played by Joyce Godenzi, who proves what a well-rounded performer she was by showing a lighter, more offbeat side to her usually steely persona. *1/2

MILLIONAIRE’S EXPRESS (aka SHANGHAI EXPRESS) (1986) review

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Though Sammo Hung Kam-Bo as a director is better known for his films showcasing the mighty trio of Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and himself, his filmography as a director/screenwriter/actor includes a gem of a film that is not nearly as famous and celebrated as it should be : Millionaire’s Express, a crazy hybrid of martial arts film, western and comedy, a combination later applied by Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights, but executed here with more ambition and creativity. In the film, Sammo plays Ching, a man who once brought great misfortune on his hometown by blowing up the dam that supplied it with water. After a few years of exile and run-ins with the law, he returns home with a plan to make things right : he will sabotage the nearby railway so that the “Millionaire’s Express”, a luxury train, will be stopped, and its wealthy passengers will have to go to the town and spend money there. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, as many subplots emerge, including the prostitutes Ching has brought along with him (including Rosamund Kwan), the head of security of the town (Eric Tsang) who’s also an arsonist and a bankrobber, Japanese swordsmen (including Yasuaki Kurata) who carry a mysterious map, a gang of outlaws who plan to rob the train (including Richard Norton and Cynthia Rothrock), a man who desperately tries to cheat on his wife (Richard Ng), and a fireman who has the responsibility of the security of the town thrust upon him (Yuen Biao). And I’m still omitting some for the sake of brevity.

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