Review for Casino Raiders
I didn’t think much of it when 88 Films released God of Gamblers last year, but it turns out that it’s could be the start of a new influx of Hong Kong films coming to UK Blu-ray. We’ve been through the ‘actors’ kicking off with Jackie Chan a few years ago, working our way through the three dragons, a bit of Jet Li, some Donnie Yen. Last year was the year of the women, with the UK boutique labels concentrating on Hong Kong cinema, brought over plenty of films with high kicking, bad-ass women. There’s been a lot of Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock and more over the last 12 months. And it turns out that gambling movies are a genre in Hong Kong too. Eureka Entertainment now bring us the gambling thriller, Casino Raiders from 1989. What’s surprising, given their penchant for movie collections of late, is that they didn’t add the sequels.
Crab Chan has just been released from prison, but he’s going back to his nefarious ways. He is a swindler, the self-styled best gambler in Asia, and with his partner Sam Law, they’ve already got a gig in San Francisco, at an old friend’s casino, figuring out just how a gang of Japanese gamblers are cheating the system. It’s a simple enough job, giving them both plenty of time to goof around, and encounter a love interest. What they don’t know is that by apparently spoiling some Japanese tourist fun, they’ve actually tweaked the nose of the Yakuza, and by doing so, they’ve triggered a landslide of increasingly bloody consequences.
Casino Raiders gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with PCM 2.0 Mono Cantonese with optional English subtitles; there’s a bit of Japanese and some dodgy English thrown in for good measure, but mostly Cantonese. It’s restoration time again, and we get a nice, clean print, excellent detail and strong, consistent colour, with no visible compression, aliasing or banding. The audio is nice and clear, and there are no issues with dropouts or distortion, although some of the background music can sound wobbly at times. There are a couple of strange subtitle choices and one inconsistency which I’ll discuss below.
The disc boots to a static menu page which offers the audio options and the following extra features.
Audio commentary with Frank Djeng
Audio commentary with Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
Martial Cards (29:11)
Heroes, Guns & Gambling: An Interview With Action Director Billy Chan (17:49)
Original Theatrical Trailer (3:27)
The first run release of the film will get o-card packaging, and a 20-page booklet on the film with writing from David West.
When it comes to my appreciation of movies based on gambling and conmen, I’ve been primed for the genre by Hollywood movies, films like The Hustler, Ocean’s Eleven, The Cooler and so on. Of course there is going to be a cultural shift, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have certain expectations. Casino Raiders didn’t meet those expectations. Instead, it feels more like a Hong Kong crime thriller with a bit of gambling tacked on, despite its flawed climax. It’s got more in common with Rich and Famous, and Tragic Hero than any of those Hollywood films I mentioned. Casino Raiders is a film that doesn’t live up to its mission statement.
The characters are billed as conmen, swindlers, and the greatest gamblers ever, and while the film begins with Crab Chan walking out of prison into an impromptu game of Russian Roulette with Bo Bo, the woman sent by Sam to pick him up, there’s not a lot of con artistry to appreciate; certainly not the kind of bait and switch convolutions as in a film like Ocean’s Eleven. The pair really just run one shell game con at the start of the story to establish their nefarious credentials, but thereafter they are straightforward good guys. They’re hired more as consultants by the US casino (which we later learn is run by the mafia) to figure out how the Japanese are ripping off their gaming tables.
It is one big score though, and in the process, Sam Law has met his dream girl, Ho-Yan Tung, daughter of a powerful businessman. With love in his life, he promises to go straight, become an upstanding citizen. This kind of leaves chancer Crab Chan a little in the lurch, even though he’s now got Bo Bo as his girlfriend, but it isn’t long before the Yakuza show up, looking for revenge, and prepared to hurt Crab and Sam and anyone around them in the process. Crab’s the first to get hurt, and he’s up for revenge, but when he needs it, Sam isn’t willing to help, at least not until it’s too late.
It all culminates in a high stakes poker match, effectively between the mafia and the yakuza, for control of gambling, but with more than enough personal stakes for the protagonists at this point to get the audience invested. And despite some questionable kibitzing during the game, and perhaps the dumbest conman twist in the tale to this point, it could have worked as a conclusion to the film. But this time it’s the disc presentation that screws it up, particularly the subtitles. At one point they are auditing one of the player’s assets, and the subtitles repeatedly state that they are counting up 1.7 billion dollars of assets. And when the English speaking accountant finalises his tally, and turns to the camera to confirm this, he states, in perfect English... “170 million dollars”. That’s a solid attempt to kick me out of the movie, but I manage to hold on. But then, this is a high stakes poker game, the pot hanging on the turn of one, final card. Is it a bluff, is it not a bluff, who can tell? Certainly not the subtitler, who translates “bluff” into “cheat” proving they’ve never played a game of poker in their life.
I never thought that just one word could diminish my opinion of a film, but there it is. Casino Raiders is an entertaining thriller that starts off light and even a little silly, but heads off in a dark direction, getting almost pitch black by the end. I was enjoying it, until that stupid subtitle. I can also see why Eureka eschewed the ‘sequels’ as while they share a theme, and the main cast for the first sequel, they play different characters. Any connection to this film is in name only.
Casino Raiders is available directly from Eureka Entertainment, from Terracotta, and from mainstream retailers.