In recent years, Chinese New Year's Day has seen the release of the latest blockbuster from the heroic gambling movie series: From Vegas to Macau. The Year of the Monkey was no different. On 8 February 2016, the third and final instalment of the series hit our screens.
From Vegas to Macau III features a bunch of superstars from Hong Kong and mainland China, including Chow Yun-Fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Andy Lau, Nick Cheung and Yuchun Li, and special appearances from Carina Lau and Korean singer PSY.
The superstar quota, high-tech animations and hilarity obviously hit the mark with audiences. The film earned approximately US$19.2 million in box office sales on its opening day and US$89.9 million in its first week, far exceeding the first two films in the series.
Similar to most action–comedy films written and directed by Wong Jing, From Vegas to Macau III follows a fairly conventional storyline. Ken Shek, retired master of gambling, is in trouble once again. He is being chased by assassins hired by multinational gunrunner Yik Tin-hang, who believes Ken responsible for his secret love Molly's brain injuries. Meanwhile, Ken has been enlisted by INTERPOL to help overthrow the evil Yik.
During the 1980s and 1990s, gambling, in particular heroic gambling, was an extremely popular theme in the Hong Kong film and television industries. I grew up watching blockbuster film series like God of Gamblers, Knight of Gamblers, The Saint of Gamblers, and television series like Who's the Winner?
Like many kids, I dreamed of becoming a gambling superhero.
They all featured heroic gamblers who fought against evil ones. Both good and evil protagonists were masters in all forms of gambling, and most had supernatural powers. Their martial arts skills also impressed, such as discharging playing cards like bullets in the final duel, which usually took place on a gaming table. Like many kids, I dreamed of becoming a gambling superhero.
Gambling for good?
In the From Vegas to Macauseries, there is an interesting and significant shift in the way gambling is portrayed. Very few scenes show gambling activities and the heroic gambler, Ken Shek, doesn't gamble unless compelled to – and when he does, he gives all his winnings to charity. On top of that, the God of Gambling is represented by a senior officer at INTERPOL.
The intention is obviously to lessen the focus on gambling. However, the heroic gambler's personal circumstances are never explored and there is no reference to the addictive nature of gambling. Ken Shek's good heart in donating the money he wins to charity may even encourage some viewers, especially younger ones, to gamble. So, despite the shift in theme to avoid normalising gambling, the series could still be inspiring another generation of kids to want to grow up heroic gamblers.
A question of culture
And yet, gambling is ingrained in Hong Kong and Chinese culture. When families and friends get together during festive seasons, like Chinese New Year, playing mahjong or card games with a bit of wagering is one of the major entertainments. Even the kids are asked to play when there are not enough adults.
So, to gamble or not to gamble? From Vegas to Macau III does little to help the Chinese community, and the wider community, answer the question.