Director: Jimmy Heung, Wong Jing
Screenplay: Jimmy Heung, Wong Jing
Starring: Alan Tam, Andy Lau, Rosamund Kwan, Lung Fong, Charles Heung, Kenzo Hagiwara, Kirk Wong Chi-Keung, Bill Shum Wai, Eddy Ko, Ronald Wong Ban, Mike Abbott
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 125 min
Year: 1989
BBFC Certificate: 18

The gambling movie is a microgenre that’s hugely popular in Hong Kong. Despite gambling long being illegal in the region (other than betting on horse races at two tracks or by travelling to neighbouring Macau), the people of Hong Kong seemingly can’t get enough of stories about high-stakes games of chance and those that play them for a living.

Whilst gambling movies have been around for a long time in Hong Kong, it wasn’t until 1989 that the microgenre truly hit its stride and it dominated the box office for much of the next decade. Whilst Wong Jing’s God of Gamblers was the biggest hit of that initial year, it was Casino Raiders that came first and was very successful in its own right (incidentally, it was also co-directed by Wong), kick-starting the gambling craze that followed

Jimmy Heung co-directed Casino Raiders and produced both films (and many other gambling movies). He and his brother Charles were known to be connected to Triad and gambling groups. So, cynical viewers might see this as an advert for the family’s operations but the films are usually good fun, so we won’t let that bother us.

The Heungs must have thought the film would have international appeal too, as an English version, Fatal Bet, was shot simultaneously by the same crew but with Western stars. This wasn’t nearly as successful though.

Eureka are releasing Casino Raiders on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range. I donned my best tuxedo and placed my bet on whether or not the disc was worth picking up.

In Casino Raiders, two inseparable friends, Crab Chan (Andy Lau) and Sam Law (Alan Tam), command the casino tables as renowned professionals. Their lives take an unexpected turn, however, when they’re summoned to Lake Tahoe by a tycoon to expose a cunning scam orchestrated by a pair of Japanese gamblers, Kung (Hagiwara Kenzo) and his son Taro (Lung Fong). During the job, Sam falls for an heiress, Koyan Tong (Idy Chan), and wins her over before they both head back to Hong Kong.

Their return brings a trail of danger though, as Sam finds himself targeted by vengeful triads sent by the slighted Japanese gambler. Crab comes to his rescue but at a cost, as his left hand is severely injured, hindering his gambling prowess.

Through Koyan’s introduction, Sam joins her father’s company, where he inadvertently foils the Kungs’ elaborate scheme to fleece Mr. Tong. This act of defiance escalates the conflict, leading to Sam’s hospitalization at the hands of hired assassins. Under pressure from Mr. Tong, Sam reluctantly vows to abandon his gambling lifestyle.

As Sam and Koyan prepare for their engagement, Crab arrives with his girlfriend, Bo Bo (Rosamund Kwan), to celebrate. However, he’s dismayed to learn of Sam’s decision to go straight, rejecting his offers to join him in the business or start a new venture. Crab has no interest in giving up gambling, the one thing he’s good at and enjoys.

When Crab attempts to face Taro alone, however, he lands himself in deep water and Sam must decide whether to remain on his new ‘straight’ path or re-enter the shady world he’d left.

Though I’ve said something along the lines of “this is a little against the grain of his usual style” in most of my recent wave of Wong Jing reviews, Casino Raiders is most definitely not what you’d expect from the director. It was co-directed by Jimmy Heung of course, as mentioned, but this is rare for a Wong Jing film in that it sticks very closely to one genre and is dark and serious throughout. Yes, there are one or two splashes of comedy but none of the toilet-humour or self-referential antics usually littering Wong’s work.

This tighter focus is also matched by a generally classy air to proceedings, which is, once again, something uncharacteristic to Wong’s films. Casino Raiders had quite a big budget and it shows, with some international locations, an unnecessary helicopter scene and handsome visuals, courtesy of cinematographer Henry Chan.

I guess having two big Cantopop stars as leads to the film guaranteed an audience, so Heung felt he could splash out. Alan Tam and Andy Lau do a great job too. Though there are female love interests for both their characters, the film is very much a ‘bromance’ at heart, so their chemistry is key. They ooze cool too, particularly Lau, which gives the film much of its appeal.

However, as slick as the film is in most departments, I just didn’t get as invested in it as I’d have liked. It’s hard to put my finger on why but, generally, I’m not sure I’m a big fan of the gambling genre. Also, I was expecting more action than I got here. There are a few fights and tense standoffs but melodrama tends to dominate in this lengthy film and when the action does crop up it’s not particularly spectacular. One bar room brawl early on is quite impressive but ends up revealing itself to be an utterly bizarre gag that somehow convinces Koyan that Sam is a great guy that she should date!

The drama, which sustains the film, hits some powerful beats, even if it can feel over-egged in places. Some of the twists and turns are rather predictable but the ending is effectively dark.

So, if you’re into gambling movies and slightly overblown dramas about brotherhood, you should definitely check out Casino Raiders. It didn’t hit my sweet spot, unfortunately, but my misguided expectations might have been to blame for that. I did admire the quality of the production overall and I’d still recommend it to those with a taste for the gambling microgenre.

Film:

Casino Raiders is out on 4th December on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. It looks stunning, with rich colours, a clean, sharp image and a light, natural grain. The audio is rich and pleasing too.

LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES

– Limited edition O-Card slipcase featuring artwork by Grégory Sacré (Gokaiju) [2000 copies]
– 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements
– Original Cantonese audio track
– Optional English subtitles
– Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
– Brand new feature length audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
– Brand new featurette by CFK (Crazy From Kong) looking at the “gambling film” craze that hit Hong Kong cinema in the late 1980s and early 1990s
– Brand new interview with Billy Chan
– Original theatrical trailer
– PLUS: A limited edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by David West [2000 copies]

Frank Djeng’s commentary is as thoroughly well-researched as ever, providing plenty of background information on the production.

Mike Leeder and Arne Venema’s commentary is similarly dense with facts and anecdotes about those involved in the film’s production.

Leeder and Venema reappear in a special featurette on Hong Kong gambling movies. Running close to half an hour, it’s a fun piece that recycles quite a few facts and stories found in their commentary but has enough new information and fantastic clips to be well worth a watch.

The interview with Billy Chan is also a decent addition. He talks about jumping between shooting the English and Chinese versions of the film simultaneously, as well as his working relationship with the two directors.

David West’s essay in the booklet focuses largely on the links with organised crime and the Hong Kong film industry, particularly the influence of the Heungs in both. It’s an eye-opening piece.

So, it’s a well-rounded package that fans of Hong Kong gambling movies should definitely get hold of.

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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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