IT'S no secret Chinese films released during the Lunar New Year season are often high on star power but low on everything else. More often that not, these blockbusters tend to be hit-and-miss affairs, though recent ones such as Eric Tsang's I Love Hong Kong franchise boasted better-than-usual plots instead of simply rehashing the same old family reunion theme that Raymond Wong's rebooted All's Well That Ends Well shamelessly did.
Both filmmakers have given their respective series a rest this year and in place are several new ones including King of Hong Kong trash cinema, Wong Jing, rebooting his God of Gamblers franchise from the 1990s. His latest, From Vegas to Macau, stars Chow Yun Fat as Magic Hands Ken, a casino security expert who can tell cards simply by touching them. He's forced to return to gambling when his daughter Rainbow (Kimmy Tong) is captured by Ko (Gao Hui), the cocky head of an underground gambling syndicate who has never lost a game of cards and is determined to test Ken's "magic" hands.
Nicholas Tse co-stars as Ken's protege and Rainbow's love interest while funnyman Chapman To provides ample comic relief. Like most of Wong's films, it mixes slapstick humour with action and to be fair, the nonsensical gambling action-comedy genre is something he pioneered and From Vegas to Macau is a throwback to that. Chow's natural charisma saves the film from going completely downhill with its pure absurdness. From Vegas to Macau is not the best bet but also not the worst this festive season.
Also being rebooted is Sandra Ng's Golden Chicken franchise. Golden Chickensss is the third instalment in the series and the first in a decade. While the first two films mixed social commentary with comedy, this new one goes mostly for mini-sketches in the first hour to allow its guest stars to play a series of hilarious roles; like Edison Chen as a sleazy Japanese brothel owner, Donnie Yen spoofing Wong Kar Wai's take on Ip Man and Louis Khoo hamming it up as a Mainland Louis Khoo impersonator.
Any semblance of a plot only creeps in during the second half where Ng, reprising her role as the kindly prostitute, Kam, helps her old beau Gordon (Nick Cheung) get back on his feet in post-1997 Hong Kong after he's released from jail.
Plot-wise, it's the weakest in the series but the endless cameos and sharply written jokes make up for things even if some of it are lost in translation with the Mandarin dubbing and English subtitles. But the stars' cameos alone definitely makes this whore-with-a-heart-of-gold tale worth revisiting.
The same can barely be said about Jack Neo's The Lion Men even though it features the same lovable cast from Ah Boys To Men. Instead of army recruits, they now play a band a brothers in the Tiger Crane lion dance troupe. Trouble starts to brew when their leader Supreme (Tosh Zhang) is banished because of a mistake he made and he goes on to form a new hip-hop lion dance hybrid group that will go up against Tiger Crane in a tournament.
To make things worse, both Supreme and Mikey (Wang Weiliang), who succeeds the former as the new leader of Tiger Crane, fall for the same girl, Xiao Yu (Eva Cheng). As if that's not complicated enough, she's also the daughter of the founder of Tiger Crane (Chen Tianwen) and the latter forbids her from dating boys from lion dance troupes.
With so much going on, it's no wonder Neo has split the film into two parts (the sequel opens during the March school holidays) but really there's no need for that if he had cut down on the blatant product placements and focused on tightening the draggy plot instead. Even the boys from the cast lose a bit of their natural charm here and resort to overacting to handle the drama. But like most of Neo's works, The Lion Men is review-proof and will probably do roaring business at the box office regardless.
From Vegas to Macau (B-) / Golden Chickensss (B+) / The Lion Men (C-)