Conman In Tokyo (2000)
I always meant to pick this one up after reading an enthusiastic recommendation from a trusted source, but was always put off by the high price tag and the fact that Nick Cheung is such a complete ass! When I saw it in the bargain bin in HK I decided it was worth a gamble though (boom boom).
Wong Jing just loves his gambling movies, and in a year when HK Cinema was showing noticable signs of decline it made sense that he'd stake one of the bigger budgets on production of a gambling movie. This time it's an entry in the CONMAN series, loosely related to the God Of Gamblers series and all its spawn.
In the director's chair is Ching Siu-Tung, taking on that role for the first time in quite a few years. Ching Siu-Tung has been director for several of Hong Kong's most loved movies, but it's widely suspected that producer Tsui Hark was actually sat in the director's chair most of the time. Ching Siu-Tung's absolutely dreadful solo venture Wonder Seven is the best evidence of this! Most people assumed that when he wasn't directing action, he really didn't know what he was doing. He must know or suspect these rumours himself, so CONMAN IN TOKYO was perhaps a chance to prove them wrong.
And thankfully he comes out on top, as the movie is well handled in characters, comedy, drama and pacing - as well as having some really cool action sequences of course. It's clearly lacking the genius in A Chinese Ghost Story and Swordsman II that can be assumed to have been Tsui Hark's, but it's still competent - definitely above average. Or perhaps it's just that he had a bigger budget and more time to work with? Even still, producing a solid movie with Nick Cheung and Louis Koo in the lead roles is no small feat :p Here they are both used to good effect though - Nick Cheung plays a complete ass (a natural talent) and Louis Koo plays somebody who is emotionally repressed (i.e. required to express no emotion). Perfect!
The leads are no Chow Yun-Fat or Stephen Chiau though, and the drama and comedy are not a match for the real classics of the genre like GOD OF GAMBLERS and All For The Winner. To make up for this, however, the movie does feature some great action. Ching Siu-Tung does have a great visual style, and his choreography and camerawork here is very good. Somehow he manages to make Cheung and Koo look better in kung fu than Ken Lo and Yasuaki Kurata - definitely an achievement! There's also some fairly well applied CGI to add some more novelty and excitement to the action scenes.
Perhaps I shouldn't bother to write so much, but I did enjoy the movie more than I have enjoyed most recent HK movies. Perhaps the movie would have been an unremarkable blip in Hong Kong's heyday, but for a recent movie it's one of the more noteworthy efforts.