It is no surprise that a man who regards himself as “Asia’s number one gambler” has an ego, Crab Chan released from prison and picked up by a Mercedes driven by the mysterious and beautiful stranger Bo Bo to whom he is immediately rude and confrontational, not realising she is the girlfriend of his own best friend Sam Law; travelling to San Francisco where they have been asked to use their skills to outwit a group cheating at the card tables, Crab instead finds distraction in the shape of wealthy heiress Ho-Yan Tong.
Returning home to Hong Kong, Crab finds employment as an executive with Ho-Yan’s father as their relationship develops, but his attempts to reinvent himself as a respectable businessman are hampered both by his friendship with Sam, still living the old life, and the Japanese cartel led by Kung and his son Taro whom he embarrassed in San Francisco, now trying to extort money from Ho-Yan’s father.
An early entry in the sub-genre of the prolific Hong Kong film industry of gambling moves, action thrillers where the high stakes are played out at the tables, Casino Raiders (Zhi zun wu shang, 至尊無上) was originally released in 1989, written and directed by Jimmy Heung and Wong Jing and starring House of Flying Daggers‘ Andy Lau as Crab Chan and Alan Tam as Sam Law with Idy Chan and Rosamund Kwan as Ho-Yan Tong and Bo Bo, now remastered from the original film elements for Blu-ray release by Eureka.
Lau and Tam both established entertainers with parallel careers as singers and actors, there is a presumption that the viewer will engage with from the outset and find their crass antics hilarious and endearing, wacky rebels bucking the system and beating the odds, but what is expected to pass for charm is anything but, Crab’s stalker-like infatuation with Ho-Yan leading him to threaten her assistant in order to meet her, terrify her on the back of his motorcycle then improbably set up a staged bar fight in order to impress her.
The film trying to make Crab seem less repulsive by placing him opposite an even more odious card player in an early scene which also turns out to be an orchestrated ruse, at least Sam’s ambitionless life is honest, and with the maudlin soundtrack desperately convinced it is accompanying a grand romantic drama as the gulf between the two former best friends on different tracks widens there is a sense that Casino Raiders is rushed and directionless, possibly a consequence of Heung filming it simultaneously with the English language version of the same story titled Fatal Bet, co-directed with Kin-Nam Cho and sharing several supporting actors in the equivalent roles.
The gambling scenes tedious, the action scenes barely competent, the men displaying their prowess by constantly slapping each other, worst is Crab’s faux-outrage when Ho-Yan is kidnapped and raped by his rival, making her trauma about his wounded male ego and pride then using her as a pawn in his end game, the most entertaining aspect of Casino Raiders the supporting discussion of the film by the duo known as “Crazy from Kong,” Arne Venema and Mike Leeder who point out the irony that gambling is illegal in Hong Kong and the measures taken to circumvent the restrictions.