Casino Tycoon promises a lot with a movie length suggesting an epic plot, a really good cast led by Andy Lau, inspiration from the true stories of true businessmen, namely departed billionaire Stanley Ho Hung-sun GBM GLM GBS GML OBE CStJ SPMP SPMT, gambling tycoon Henry Fok Ying Tung GBM and Chinese millionaire Yip Hon. Even the settings are reminiscent of the existing real events within which it is set and prolific director Wong Jing at the wheel. There is even a sequel on the other end of the movie suggesting popularity. There is a whisper of a war, the suggestion of a gangster movie, there is some heroism, some action scenes, some romance, even thriller. So what is it all about?
Casino Tycoon – The plot
The Hong-Kong movie has a rags to riches storyline with action, war, suspense and thriller boiling on the bed of the inevitable drama. It relates the story of tycoon Ho Hsin (Andy Lau), a refugee from Hong-Kong who, despite his financially poor origins, strives with cleverness, good heart, integrity and hard work, and grows into a casino tycoon. So where did it go wrong?
Casino Tycoon – How the plot was lost
For one, the film is bloated with several plot lines that have no bearing on its main plot. These can sidetrack from the main story and just feel like fillers for a movie that could have either easily be shorter or better made its segueing segments belong with its main plot.
From experience, it’s hard to be bored with a Hong-Kong cinema offering. There is a fun way of mixing the grotesque with the serious, the blood shed and the romance, the sacrificial heroism and the crual antagonist. Yet, in the midst of that, everything holds and there is a point to things that matter and an emotional reward to those that don’t. All these combine to offer all-round entertainment, at least that is the idea.
Plot lost at the suspension of disbelief
Suspending my disbelief was very hard at times. There was enough running time to be told more about the abilities of the main character and yet nothing in the back story or events in his life prepared us for his sudden ability to fight mere minutes after he was easily defeated. His childhood gambling knowledge had no baring whatsoever in leading him to owning the casino and felt like a pointless premise. His rivalry with one of the main antagonists could easily had been uniquely based on fighting for the girl they both set their eyes on; but the film had to mention Ho Hsin getting funding for school to show more of the rivalry, a point that was not necessary for any of the remaining events. The film also mentions that Ho Hsin didn’t graduate which again felt like one of the many loose ends that leave you disappointed by the time wasted rather than eager to find out if a sequel could give you some sense of closure.
Plot lost at the loose ends
The plot is full of loose ends. We have spoken about the nongraduation. But there’s more. How the film jumps from a sulfur acid attack on the boss’ legal daughter to the wedding and others baffles. What happened in between? What came off the burned one? What befailed the male assailant?
What about the asthmatic father? His external ear was taken but not his ability to hear surely. Was there any infection from this unhygienic surgery? Any chance to straighten up the story about his saviours not being his assailants? Wong Chang (Paul Chun’s character) gets to wander the streets as the looked-after crazy man rather than being imprisoned either in formal jail or a psychiatric facility à la Batman after he murders his whole family. Finally (because I can’t list them all), I really struggle to accept that, in the year in which this film was set (or even later on in 1992 when this film was released), there was a malaria serum that in less than two hours could fix the patient and give them the strength to have a comple sexual exchange.
father and King of Gambling. The main antagonist seems to be some sort of gangster himself. Yet, these crumbs of information do not feel sating enough for this Asian film enthusiast.
A questionable lead character
The lead character in Casino Tycoon is not as likeable, consistent or as developed as the length of the movie, his clever and heroic presentation may suggest. This is a man who is supposed to showcase that in spite of poverty, he has integrity, respect, cleverness and compassion. However, he leaves his mum to fend for herself in occupied Hong-Kong. He later returns to Macau where he was banned without any regards for the promise he made to his wife never to, the trauma she endured there and still rightfully associates with it, the dangers that he should know await him and his family including death threats and still barely protects himself or them (at least when with him) from those threats. His money insecurities cause him to fall out with the woman he is supposed to love and to leave her for another.
He barely listens (if at all) to the drips of wisdom surrounding him, still stands up to people who he knows hate him despite having a family exposed and unprotected. He sleeps with a married woman whilst being married himself knowing that her husband hates him and has shown a propency to hurting her for a lesser deed, thereby putting her in danger. And he did that all that in spite of being married to a woman who was born and had suffered from such a situation, putting her too in danger. On top of that, he doesn’t take care of his past love when she is left husband-less and shows that his actions were more of lust and revenge than love or respect. A lot of what happens to him and near 100 percent of the reason why his pregnant wife ends up paralysed is his own fault. The questionability of his character is later confirmed when he reveals that the donation of 90% of his profit is just a plot to get the bid.
An underused cast
Alex Mann’s character, Kuo Ying Nan, is one of the best part of the movie and arguably the most developed and consistent, yet he is severely under-utilised. He is very clearly the comic relief, loyal, straight to the point and with a golden heart. He is a bigger than life character and that shows in his expression, his way of eating and his reaction. He delivers one of the most truthful lines of the movie when he mentions that the treatment of the boss’ daughter is the fault of the boss for sleeping around. It would have been more consistent that he made a point of straightening out his friend about his very similar actions, had he known about it of course (something that could have been easily arranged). He is an asset to the main character but only as far as following his lead rather than also being able to tell him when he derails.
Lau Siu-Ming is another voice of reason whose inclusion feels too hesitant and irrelevant as his advice is ignored, his input is minimalised and the aspect of how he could have positively affected the growth of the main character is brushed over.
The genre seeks itself
It is common in Hong-Kong cinema to have a mix of genres and a ritual jump from one to the other. It is their style of entertainment and one that attracts me to these films: nothing in life is all romance or all action, all thriller or all war, all comedy or all drama. It makes sense that life is a mixture of those and it does something to relating to reality whilst adding the dramatised aspect to it.
But throughout the movie, it is unclear whether any of these genres is actually harnessed to its even half its potential. The ideas sown here and there that it might be a gangster movie do not quite pan out even when, by the end of the movie, Andy Lau’s character, Benny Ho San, seems to be suggesting it with his behaviour. After all, the character itself is based on Stanley Ho, who is also known by his nickname, the Godfather of gambling.
There are also drips of romance with the introduction of the first object of his affections and then of his future wife. The former is discarded so easily, even more so with Benny Ho San’s later showcase of lust, that any romantic build-up is destroyed. The same equally destroys any hope of romantic basis to the latter. In the end, it just feels like lust on the one hand and guilt on the other. This leaves us with the feeling of romance without any romanticism.
There is certainly action. However, it is too chaotic to underlie choreography, and, without any understanding of the abilities of our protagonists, it is lost. There is a heroism to the main character that, as we saw when exploring the character earlier, does not fully convince.
Mystery is another attempted genre in there. I can safely and quickly say that, although a lot of what happened was surprising, this was not as much a case of mystery as it was a case of chaos. The viewer has been shown in advance that the main character does neither die or become incapacitated by showing him from the outset remembering everything that is told. There is no real suspense as things unravel quite quickly. There is no surprise or clever easter egg for later reveals. The thrill has no resolve.
The movie is set around the period of the Japanese invasion but it is by no means a war movie. It does mention a number of was-related points but fails to truly connect them with the plot, making them more an attempt (and fail) to add a genre than relevant pieces of information to clue in the audience.
There is drama, definitely. Asian movies really, really can do drama. I even cried at some point, eventually. But I kid you not, I cannot remember why. Again, this is the case of parts here and there developed well but not linking well enough with the plot to hold their audience.
There are some elements of documentary in the movie. between the snapshot of black and white events relating the Japanese arrival in Hong-Kong and the sudden narration somewhere at the end of the first third and in the middle of the movie, we have just enough to wonder if this is historical piece. But it just ends up feeling like a shortcut tool to giving the film some gravitas and to explaining missing years that have no other bearing on character development or plot than they should.
The religious is more heavily present than anticipated, with the church, the Father character, the Jesus imagery, the cross symbolism, the prayers but does not make the film more of a religious movie or an inspirational one. In effect, it feels more like a mention to satisfy a growing belief or a specific movie sponsor than something that makes any type of difference in the movie. Anyone else could have suggested Macau and to be honest, the childhood flashback of his gambling principles would have better justified his choice of a gambling haven that is Macau than the poor excuse that a religious member would have to send one of his favourite parishioner to a place of religious disrepute. The watch that came with the recommendation is given far too many scene and too much importance but frankly has none. The prayers of his wife or his own faith are just for characterisation rather than having any weight in any of the decision-making. All these mean that religion ends up being another un-integrated add-on.
Finally, the thriller part of it, where the main antagonist’s guilt catches up on him falls flat as neither the innocence of the wrongly-accused nor the guilt of the responsible ones is never discovered or dealt with. Instead, the antagonist gets his comeuppance in the form of a revenge more worthy of ancient gods and modern godfathers than of modern justice. But I guess there is plenty of crime, notwithstanding the film development itself.
I watched the film until the end so it is not completely bad. But I did pause it several times and almost forgot to finish watching it. It is clear that a great cast does not guarantee a great movie. This movie should just be seen as entertainment or better yet, divertissement, to kill time if you have some, rather than the epic story that will inspire or thrill you as it appears to be from its premises. All in all, it is a lot of drama for a meager emotional reward. It is safe to say that I will not be watching the sequel.
Casino Tycoon is a 1992 Hong Kong movie. The movie, released on the 20th of August 1992, is in Cantonese and was filmed in China and Hong-Kong. Wong Jing both wrote the script and directed the movie. It is set during the Japanese invasion and
The film is set in World War II, Casino Tycoon chronicles the story of Benny, a young graduate played by Andy Lau, who flees Hong-Kong during the Japanese invasion and heads for gambling haven Macau. Once in Macau, he starts as a lowly coolie but he impresses a local business man who has ties to organised crime, and slowly builds his way up the ranks. Benny engages in a battle of wits against his college rival and business enemies. In the finale, Benny overcomes his enemies but at great personal cost.It stars Andy Lau as Benny Ho San, Alex Man as Kwok Ying-nam, Paul Chun as Wong Chang, Wilson Lam as Fu Ka-chun, Joey Wong as Vivian Ching Lok-yee, Chingmy Yau as Mui, Kwan Hoi-san as Fu Lo-cha. It also has Lau Siu-ming as Nip Ngo-tin, Paw Hee-ching as Benny Ho San’s mother, and Maria Tung Ling as Lucida, Mui’s half sister.
At the time of writing, Casino Tycoon is being streamed on Netflix.