'From Vegas to Macau II': Hong Kong/Filmart Review
Wong Jing and Chow Yun-fat reteam for another spin through the popular gambling sub-genre for the holiday season
Perhaps it’s Macau’s dimming gaming star (and China censors’ distaste for onscreen gambling) that has taken what little fun there could have been out of From Vegas to Macau II. As a follow-up to the barely coherent 2014 action comedy, it drops all pretense of a logical plot in favor of a series of loosely connected, hyper-kinetic vignettes designed to obscure the utter lack of a script with glitzy set pieces and vaguely exotic location shooting. All you need to know about the film is demonstrated by its leering opening yacht attack by a gun-toting, bikini-wearing girly gang; even the exploitation feels neutered. Completely tone deaf and an obvious Lunar New Year cash grab (at which it succeeded by crossing the $100 million gross threshold), only star Chow Yun-fat’s enduring appeal will keep From Vegas to Macau II from the scrap heap. Its life beyond the Chinese border is limited.
The bandit warriors of the first film are gone but Mr. Ko’s DOA crime syndicate remains, with the villainous (they’re always villainous) Aoi (Jin Qiaoqiao) taking over from Mr. Ko. After surviving the assault on his yacht, master gambler Ken (Chow) agrees to help his estranged godson Vincent (Love in the Buff's Shawn Yue, Nicholas Tse’s de facto replacement) bust up the international crime ring (what makes him qualified for this is unclear). Naturally, Vincent is an Interpol agent (does anyone even care there is no such thing?) and he comes to Ken during the course of his investigation while hunting for former DOA accountant Mark (Nick Cheung) who’s been hiding in Thailand with his daughter and billions in syndicate dollars. Mark and Ken go way back.
The first film was a hit largely due to its self-aware silliness. The non-offending dearth of gambling sequences in 2014—which held the fundamental, wish-fulfillment appeal of this genre back in its 1980s and ’90s heyday—were compensated for by a willfully goofy story that at the very least hung together as a narrative and had the lunatic audacity to make an oversized teddy bear a major plot point. This time around, Wong and Company don’t even try. Among from FVtoMII’s more ridiculous (not in a good way) “highlights” are a constantly malfunctioning AI butler, Ken’s Muay Thai boxing match and a strip mahjong game that is remarkably free of any lasciviousness, which is odd for Wong. The film is tonally all over the map, jumping from slapstick comedy one second, to gun-blazing violence the next, only to be capped off with melodramatic emotionalism. Much of that revolves around Mark’s interactions with his ex-wife (Yuan Quan, The White Storm) and young daughter or the painfully underutilized Carina Lau as Ken’s old flame, Molly, the proverbial the one that got away.
Lau, however, may consider herself lucky. For the most part the talented cast is wasted in a production that is obviously going through the motions: Cheung can be riotously funny—and he’s far less grating than the increasingly obnoxious Chapman To—and Yue has proven to be a deft straight man. A cameo by Hong Kong legend David Chiang goes nowhere and has no impact (other than feelings of shame on his behalf). But the screenplay is so lacking in any kind of depth from any angle they have nothing to work from. Chow and Lau don’t really connect, Cheung and Yuan get no time to establish any real rapport, and Yue and Michelle Hu don’t even manage tepid in their undercooked “romance.” Sadly, the greatest indignities are reserved for Chow, who has clearly entered the Johnny Depp phase of his career: the stage where endless mugging and a reliance on past glories and personae substitute for performance. Despite a sliver of engaging Thai action (directed by Lee Tat-chiu) and typically professional technical support (a special shout out should do to editor Azrael Chung for cobbling together some semblance of linear storytelling) the crime-comedy-action-caper is simultaneously overstuffed and empty.
And there’s still no sign of Vegas.
Production company: Mega-Vision Project, Sun Entertainment Culture, Media Asia, Shaw Brothers
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Nick Cheung, Shawn Yue, Carina Lau, Jin Qiaoqiao, Kimmy Tong, David Chiang, Angela Wang, Wu Yue, Michelle Hu, Yuan Quan
Director: Wong Jing
Screenwriter: Wong Jing
Producer: Andrew Lau, Connie Wong
Executive producer: Wong Jing, Yu Dong, Alvin Chow, Peter Lam
Director of photography: Cho Man-keung
Production designer: Andrew Cheuk
Costume designer: Cindy Cheng
Editor: Azrael Chung
Music: Chan Kwong-wing, Chen Yu-peng
World sales: Mega-Vision Pictures
No rating, 110 minutes