The Gambling Ghost (1991)

Posted in Reviews by - November 26, 2022
The Gambling Ghost (1991)

Sammo Hung‘s early 90s output is a patchy collection of unbridled barnstormers (Pedicab Driver; Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon) and absolute howlers (Pantyhose Hero; Don’t Give a Damn), and his lack of consistency would see his star power fade. At times, this meandering supernatural comedy may test the patience of even his most hardened fans – it is essentially a series of slapstick routines pieced together – but, by and large, the broad comedy lands surprisingly well, aside from some jarring homophobia and sexism (although there are much worse examples in his extensive filmography). The comedy riffs on big Hong Kong movies of the era – namely direct spoofs of Wong Jing’s¬†God of Gamblers and Ching Siu-tung’s A Chinese Ghost Story – and a slew of Sammo’s buddies drop by to take part in a series of fun cameos, including Lucky Stars¬†members Richard Ng and Stanley Fung, Lam Ching-ying as a modern-day exorcist, and James Tien as a Taoist priest with crazy kung fu skills. There is even a half-hearted supernatural element which affords Sammo the opportunity to play three generations of the same family, beating Eddie Murphy by a number of years. Sammo and Mang Hoi play losers working as parking valets at a posh hotel. The clientele appear to be mostly rich Chinese migrants from the mainland having affairs – part of an undercurrent of anti-Beijing sentiment which runs throughout the film, highlighting Hong Kong’s weariness towards its impending handover. Another extended comedic sequence sees Sammo assuming the identity of a South China oil magnate in Chairman Mao attire spitting and touching-up the Hong Kong girls, as local businessmen clamour to give him their business cards. When the boys meet car thief Nina Li Chi and inadvertently spring a car from a gang of crooks, Mang Hoi is kidnapped and held for ransom (“pay one million dollars or I’ll sell his organs to China!”, yells one of the criminals). In an attempt to get hold of the money, Sammo calls upon the ghost of his dead granddad – known as the ‘Gambling King’ – to help him become a conman. Soon, he’s correctly guessing the lottery results and cleaning up in casinos. In exchange, his granddad’s ghost asks him to take revenge for his own murder. Because this is a Sammo Hung film, even his most flimsy of stories still involve moments of majestic martial arts magic. Although this is much more a comedy than an all-out action flick, it still boasts some high-quality carnage, most notably the finale which pits Sammo against the American martial artist, Robert “Bobby” Samuels, while Mang Hoi squares up to Thai bootmaster, Billy Chow.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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