The Top Bet

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Welcome back dear readers (yes, both of you) to March 2011’s 41st Top Cinema Blog in the UK and Ireland.  I have no idea if this is good or bad, but it raised a small smile when i first noticed myself getting on this list.  Knowing how many hits I DO get mind you, does make me wonder how close I am to being a lot lower.

However, I do know I have a pretty unique slant on things – for where else are you going to get a review of a really quite minor Hong Kong film from 1991, that is not only a sequel to a film that I will probably never watch, but is in a sub-genre that garners no interest in me (and indeed is a parody of the sub-genre), and is probably little more than a passing footnote on any of the stars or film-makers that were involved in its production?

The Top Bet” (a.k.a All For The Winner 2) is a cash in sequel to a Stephen Chow film about a mainlander with supernatural powers who uses them to become some kind of super gambler.  You know – cheat.  Chow only makes the briefest of cameo appearances at either end of the film here, but in principle (and as far as I understand) the film plays out pretty much the same, replacing him with two of my favourite Hong Kong actresses from this era – Anita Mui and Carol ‘Do Do’ Cheng.  Mui plays his sister, replete with supernatural powers, come from the Mainland to bring back her brother for misuse of his gifts.  She gets pulled into her Uncle’s requirement to enter a new “God of Gambling” into an international tournament at the behest of some shady Triad types.  She steadfastly refuses, forcing her Uncle to recruit another seeming “Goddess of Gambling” from the fish market (Cheng), but she turns out to be little more than a grifter.  But one with a heart, and eventually the women work together to produce that happy ending you just know is 90 minutes away.

Seems to me I have another Jeffrey Lau comedy on my hands here.  No stranger to this blog, this film pretty much encapsulates every other film of his I have watched.  30% of the film is using jokes that are utterly impenetrable to this particular viewer (being as I am not from Hong Kong, and possibly because I am in 2001 and not 1991), 20% of the jokes are simply not funny (or stretched beyond their natural humour breaking point), and 50% of it is side-splitting genius.  Whilst that sounds bad written down, I think you will find that some of this is because I am not the natural audience for his films, and frankly, a 50% hit rate is pretty darn good for any comedy.

The film is relatively speedy, plot-wise, moving ever forward, pausing only briefly for a couple of moments of introspection.  At 90 minutes, this one packs in everything it needs to, with very little fat that would need trimming.  There is even an action scene that would fit into a much more serious film quite well (but then action-supremo Corey Yeun is also attached, so that should come as no surprise).

Now, I have to me honest – a lot of the acting here is silly, over-the-top and, well, hammy.  However, you do get a touch of class whenever you add Anita Mui to a film.  She plays the wide-eyed and committed mainlander on the whole pretty straight, keeping her acting abilities grounded even when the rest of the cast are not quite up to her standard.  Most of the laughs though are unsurprisingly provided by Cheng, who is just a genius at all aspects of comedy, especially when called on to do anything physical.  And she can raise a chuckle with the most  simple of facial expressions.  It is a real shame that the girls don’t get much more screen time to play off against each other, the three main scenes that they are working with each other are certainly the highlights.

So, is it any good?  No not really.  It’s utterly harmless, and frankly at times a bucket load of fun.  It will offer you no new insight into life, and everyone involved has done far better work.  Will I ever watch it again? Almost certainly not.

But despite that – I really enjoyed it.  It is far from inpenetratable, and does showcase some of the cream of 1991 Hong Kong cinema.  It is like a little potpourri of what that era’s cinema is like.  If it was a meal, it would be like a corporate buffet – it would not fill you up, or have you coming back for seconds, but it would keep you going through the afternoons meeting.  Mildly Recommended.

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