There's nobody in American movies like Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun-Fat. Best known stateside as the stoic center of John Woo's most dizzying action maelstroms (including The Killer and Hard-Boiled), Chow's antiheroic presence is so alluring that he seems born to play such parts. (It's been argued that Chow's good looks and hints of barely submerged tenderness, which lure hordes of young women who might otherwise be repelled by graphic gunplay, are as responsible for John Woo's U.S. breakthrough as any number of fawning critical thinkpieces.)
But Chow is absurdly versatile. In the past several years, he's starred in costume epics, romantic melodramas, martial arts flicks, light comedies, even musicals. To create an American equivalent, you'd have to combine Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, Robert DeNiro, Nicolas Cage, Mandy Patinkin, and all Three Stooges.
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Chow invokes those performers and many more in God of Gamblers Returns, one of the most inventive, exciting, and flat-out bizarro movies I've ever seen. It's not necessary to see the first one (although you can rent it at RPM Records, Videoquest, Jade Video, and Today's Audio Laserdisc). All you need to know is that Chow plays a billionaire gambling superhero who's like James Bond crossed with the Green Hornet, Maverick, and Bing Crosby, and that he wants revenge against a rival gambler who killed his wife and destroyed their unborn child.
After that, the film (directed by Wong Jing, who helmed the first God of Gamblers and the loopy Jackie Chan comedy City Hunter) becomes a wild ride through a dozen different movie genres, complete with feverish close-quarters shootouts, whacked-out gambling competitions that combine elements of blackjack and kung fu (don't ask), romantic subplots, slapstick routines, even fantasy dance numbers. It's like Lethal Weapon 2, Duck Soup, The Road to Rio, and a Tex Avery cartoon mixed together. (One of the movie's in-jokes is that the hero keeps looking for an excuse to sing, but the other characters won't let him. Besides levitating, it's the only thing this role doesn't allow Chow to do.) Without Chow's alternately tough, wounded, flirtatious, and kooky screen presence, none of it would work. The notion of any American star holding a film like this together is inconceivable.
God of Gamblers Returns plays February 3 and 4, 10 pm and midnight, at the Loews Preston Park, 1900 Preston Park Blvd. in Plano. Call 964-7001 for more information.
--Matt Zoller Seitz (firstname.lastname@example.org)