“Sir please do not pick your teeth with your card.”
All for the Winner (1990: Corey Yuen, Jeff Lau: Hong Kong)
This is the first time Corey Yuen and Jeff Lau had codirected together and their division of duties is obvious with Yuen on action and Lau on comedy. While both directors and star Stephen Chow had moderate successes before they had nothing as large compared to this. While its inspiration God of Gamblers was a massive hit, this pseudo-parody out-grossed it. This had to be a complete surprise to everyone involved. It was Chow’s superstar breakout role, it helped push the popularity of his pairing with Ng Man-tat (they first worked together earlier that year in Lung Fung Restaurant), it furthered the current gambling film craze with God of Gamblers II (1990) being next in this series directed by Wong Jing, who actually liked this film, and it started a trend of Chow playing a Mainland bumpkin with a special ability.
Stephen Chow is Sing from Guangzhou who is to stay with his Uncle Blackie Tat (Ng Man-tat; who is also in God of Gamblers). He is so out-of-place he tries to buy soda with the wrong currency (RMB.) His suit would be rejected by Elmer Gantry. But besides his fighting skills he has a special power, he can see through things with a twinkle in his eyes. This was misused in Guangzhou where he was employed to look for pipe leaks, then as a customs officer. He was replaced by a machine.* He has a few other powers: one quite powerful where he can modify what is shown on a card/ticket, but that one drains him of all his powers for a period of time so he cannot use that one too much. But he has a big heart and is known as the Saint of Gamblers (also the Chinese title 賭神 for the film.)
Of course he is going to be used for his ability much like the Andy Lau and Chow Yun-fat relationship in God of Gamblers. Alongside Blackie Tat there are three brethren living together: Ying (Sheila Chan) who wants Tat, Shing (co-director Corey Yuen) who wants Ping, and Ping (Sandra Ng) who wants a bigger chest and/or smaller butt. A pretty amiable group who is going to benefit from Sing’s abilities. And also like in God of Gamblers those two are going to start small. They even show a clip from God of Gamblers and Tat wants Sing to use copious amounts of gel and walk like Ko Chun (or at least Chow Yun-fat). Sing takes this literally and hilariously enters a gambling event moving in slow motion (compare this to a later gag with Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994).) Meanwhile Sing falls in love with a female triad assassin Yee Mong (Sharla Cheung, yes she is in God of Gamblers) who is working for Hung Kwong the King of Gamblers who is handicapped, has to use a voice box, but is a consummate gambler and a crime boss. Hung wants Sing on his side, but so does Taiwanese triad member Chan (co-director Jeff Lau.)
Some of the gags did not quite work for me. The armpit gag with Sandra Ng went on too long, though its absurdity was bizarrely interesting and is memorable since it means Sing is at minimum partially insane. The dry-humping of Uncle Tat joke also wore a little thin or at least wore Tat a little thin. The gambling scenes were not as well done as in God of Gamblers (which was often a shot-by-shot homage of The Cincinnati Kid (1965).) But the worst is some of the melodrama which is mostly time-filler and often feels off-balance with the ludicrous humor. Sometimes it is pretty stupid in a way such as Sing’s possibly leaving (we know he is going to come back) a contest he has to be in. He pretty much condemns his uncle to being killed or at least castrated with a hammer (not knife) if he does not show up.
But this is Stephen Chow and I tend to be a fan of his moleitau (nonsense) humor** which has such brilliant scenes from a triad boss who will not look a person in the face, to his Bruce Lee imitations which are in nice form and he is a decent on screen fighter. Chow has a great way of breaking a serious moment with a joke like a towel covering his head after a fight and he likes to use counterpoint such as when a litter accusation at Sing is shown at the same time as Tat spitting a loogie on the ground or use misdirection like when you think he is going to obviously cheat but instead scratches his nether regions in full view of the “cheating” cameras.
I overall liked Corey Yuen’s fighting and action scenes. But analogous to Bodyguard from Beijing (1994) and High Risk (1995) he often has issues with his gun battles like the protagonists avoiding bullets too easily and I do wonder how a couch can be used to shield oneself from a barrage of bullets from a short range. But he works well with the hand fighting scenes, makes Chow look good and Ng Man-tat even sillier with his unique style of fighting.
For those who are Stephen Chow fans I imagine this has already been seen. Those who dislike Chow are not going to be converted here. Those new to Chow might better be served by seeing Kung Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer first. But for those interested in Hong Kong cinema this is a landmark film that needs to be watched. Repeated watches make me realize how much of a hodge-podge plot it is. It is not quite up there with my favorite Chows like From Beijing With Love (1994), Love on Delivery (1994) or Kung Fu Hustle but I do enjoy this.
This was viewed on the Mei Ah 99m R0/NTSC release (be warned there is a shorter version available.) It is anamorphic widescreen, has Cantonese (Original, Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, DTS) and Mandarin (Original) audio tracks while subtitles are Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and English. The subtitles are not bad and the print looks good. Special Features are a Trailer (3:02m), Data Bank (which is Synopsis and Cast & Crew in Chinese and English), and Best Buy which is a 2046 trailer (2:24m).
* Obviously a dig at the Mainland, but there several in this film (“How about insect fighting?” “You think this is China?”) and throughout much of Chow’s Hong Kong oeuvre. The obvious connotation that even with his gifts they cannot find a good job for him (or in Marxist thought they cannot exploit him properly.)
** He often uses Cantonese slang (as well as curse words) for some of his humor. A bad translation and some/all of it will be missed. But it is not as hard to understand as some reviewers/writers have stated since penis and poop idiomatic references are usually not as hard to understand as topical humor (for me like understanding the then current English political jokes in Monty Python’s Flying Circus). Slang is also temporal, it rarely lasts long in the local lexicon. But Chow uses visual humor, absurdity, some topical jokes like Bruce Lee that would not be hard for most viewers especially here to understand, and scatological humor that translates rather easily (a fart joke is a fart joke is a fart joke).
Keywords: 85 Dundas Street, breakdancing, Bruce Lee, Dick Tracy t-shirt, dirty magazines, end credit goofs, Guangzhou-Kowloon Through Train, gweilos, horse racing, Kowloon station, mahjong, optical effects, Pai Gow, Porsche, RMB, spear, Tien Gow, throwing darts, Volvo Nightclub
Book: Historical Dictionary of Hong Kong Cinema (2007) by Lisa Odham Stokes: She uses Chiau stead of Chow as his last name in this dictionary. Discusses some of his background with TVB. Also writes that he is heir to Michael Hui.
Book: Planet Hong Kong 2nd Edition (2011) by David Bordwell
Book: At the Hong Kong Movies (1999) Paul Fonoroff: talk about being prescient: “If I may make a prediction, All for the Winner will be the summer’s number one film at the box office.” I like this quote: “I never thought I would say this six months ago, but I am gradually becoming a Steven Chiau fan.”
The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997 (2000) by John Charles: he gives this a 7/10.
There are a couple of different versions of this. Check here for alternate details.
This is on LoveHKFilm.com’s The Best Hong Kong Films Ever list.
King of hilarious when Yee Mong gets doubled her arm muscles become much larger. I was thinking that it is easier to double women with sleeves than sleeveless dresses.
The odds of two royal flushes at the same time are astronomical.
Anyone have a favorite Chow series from TVB?
Film Reviews and Release Comparisons