Conman 1999 (1998) / Comedy-Thriller
MPAA Rated: Not rated
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Andy Lau, Athene Chu, Nick Cheung, Angie Cheung, Ben Ng, Emotion Cheung
Director: Wong Jing
Screenplay: Wong Jing
Review published January 17, 2000
Why my review of this film seems to be the only negative one I can find is a mystery to me. I'm actually quite surprised myself, since the other films stemming from the God of Gamblers series are still entertaining. Then I look at the writer/director and figure out why I despised this film so much, Wong Jing (Tricky Master, City Hunter). Those who have read my reviews before may think I have a vendetta against the man, but really I don't. I just always feel the need to single him out because whenever I look closer at any film coming out of Hong Kong that I truly despise, it seems his name invariably is attached somewhere, whether as writer, director, or producer. In Conman's case, it is all three, so I knew that there was going to be no-holds barred on crude humor, distasteful violence, and weak romance. However, I didn't expect it to be so devoid of entertainment value, even on a low-brow level, that I would eventually deem it one of the most worthless wastes of time I have experienced in all of my film-watching years.
Andy Lau (Armageddon, Handsome Siblings) plays King, who in the beginning of the film is very unsympathetic, cruel to his wife and arrogant as all hell when it comes to his gambling prowess. He ends up mired in a card-game-gone-bad, which ends up in disaster when he kills one of the men there. Not only this, but he ends up going color-blind from the trauma. His wife is pregnant with his child, but vows he shall never see it, and when he eventually gets out of prison a reformed man, finds that she intends to be true to her word. Instead he is greeted by Dragon (Conman in Tokyo, Breaking News) - aka 'Skinny Dragon' - who has been sent by an old friend of King's to set up temporary accommodations while he gets back into society. Dragon's sister finds a soft spot for King, and allows him to stay with her while he looks for his wife, and in the meantime King teaches Dragon some tricks of the conman trade. However, King gets a little too involved in this case, when he is sucked in by the brother of the man he killed in playing one final card game with Macau Mon, perhaps the best gambler in Asia.
If I had to narrow Conman's problems down to one phrase it would be that it is a complete mess. Although the actors are ok, the plotline is almost unintelligible, shifting its direction for no purpose, and the motivations of the characters make just as little sense. We don't understand why King is such a heinous bastard before his prison stint, or what caused him to reform afterward. He teaches Dragon that it is important to cheat when gambling, yet admonishes another player for doing the same. Wong Jing himself cheats by leaving visual clues that King's wife may have killed herself, yet when we find out that it is a complete fabrication, there is no explanation for the things we have seen. Later, there is an attempt at humor when Dragon gets involved with staging a phony soccer match, complete with commercials, and this is where the film completely collapses from confusing to downright unbelievable.
Conman is as disjointed an experience as you'll likely to get watching a movie these days. The violence is too violent, the humor not humorous enough. The love stories lack emotion, while the characters lack dimension. Even as a gambling film, Conman fails miserably to excite. The only credit I can give to this film is for an appealing cast, but they come nowhere near saving this fiasco from destroying itself. That Wong Jing is considered a talented writer and director perhaps is the biggest con of them all.
©2000 Vince Leo