The Conman (1998)

Reviewed by: Libretio
Date: 10/12/2005
Summary: Gambling madness from Wong Jing


Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Sound format: Mono

Following their collaboration on the eminently watchable A TRUE MOB STORY (1998), director Wong Jing and star Andy Lau re-teamed almost immediately for THE CONMAN, a variation on the hugely successful "God of Gamblers" series. Here, Lau plays a ruthless card-sharp who's jailed for killing a mobster after being caught cheating during a routine card game. Upon his release five years later, a repentant Lau is targeted by the dead man's equally vicious brother (Waise Lee) and forced to play for big money against a notoriously successful gambler during a contest which revolves around the outcome of the 1998 World Cup (!). In the meantime, while searching for the wife and child he abandoned after landing in jail, Lau is given refuge by a loyal - though somewhat dim-witted - admirer (Nick Cheung) who is determined to learn the tricks of the gambling trade. And just to complicate matters, Lau finds himself unable to resist his feelings for Cheung's protective older sister (Athena Chu)...

Not an action film per se, THE CONMAN proceeds at a rapid clip whilst never really moving into first gear, perhaps because it foregoes elaborate set-pieces in favor of character-driven tableaux. Lau coasts through the film largely on autopilot (hardly surprising, given the material) and allows himself to be upstaged throughout by Cheung, who parlays the role of lovable buffoon into something quite distinctive through sheer force of personality. But the climactic card game - during which Lau and his cohorts attempt to deceive their opponents by rigging the satellite transmission of an alternative World Cup Final - lurches wildly from drama to comedy and back again, and hinges around such a ridiculous sequence of events that the entire film is completely derailed. Perversely, this ludicrous episode is also side-splittingly funny, with Cheung playing multiple roles (including the women!) during a series of fake commercial breaks designed to make it look as though Brazil won the Cup (don't ask me to explain why - you wouldn't believe me if I tried!). Having thus abandoned all credibility, the film has nowhere else to go. Ben Ng (RED TO KILL) and Karel Wong (THE JAIL OF NO RETURN) are featured in the supporting cast as a couple of vicious thugs, though neither of these fine actors is billed in the English-language credits.

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 09/19/2003

A card shark called Blade (Andy Lau) kills an opponent after things get out of hand during a game and is color-blinded during the process. After getting out of prison (during which time his wife Angie Cheung has left him), Blade hooks up with a young wannabe called Dagger (Nick Cheung) and his sister Athena Chu. Though he wants to leave the past behind him, the brother of the man Blade killed (Waise Lee), through blackmail, brings him back into the fray for a climatic game during the World Cup finals.

The Conman is a pretty restrained movie, which is suprising, since it comes from Wong Jing and co-stars Nick Cheung. Actually, this restraint works in the movie's favor, especially since Andy Lau isn't exactly a dynamic actor. And despite the film's gambling overtones, it is actually more of a romantic drama/comedy, with a lot of the running time dedicated to Andy and Athena's relationship. But these bits work well. Athena Chu is cute as always and Andy is convincing as the world-weary gambler (though the "old age" make up -- which consits of a bad grey dye job -- looks pretty cheesy). Nick Cheung seems to have forgotten that he's supposed to be the next Stephen Chow and reigns himself in his performance, which makes his part actually funny in parts, especially when he's starring in some fake commericals shown during the World Cup game. And some props must be given up to Wong Jing, who puts in a funny parodic performance as a bumbling TV producer (and he also shows his sense of humor by taking some shots at his "fat playboy" image in some of the aforementioned commericals).

This is nothing even close to Wong Jing's gambling classic God of Gamblers, but it's a decent way to kill ninety minutes.

Reviewed by: Dyogenez
Date: 12/26/2002
Summary: Better than you may think

Although all the other reviews seem to make this movie not look too good, i thought it was quite enjoyable. There were a few uncomfortable moments at the beginning, but after that Andy lau falls in with Dragon (Nick Cheung) and finds his place. The gambling scenes are innovative, which adds a lot to the movie for me. As with most gambling movies it ends with an elaborate, well built up, gambling scene where Andy Lau is going against a long time opponent. The ending is very well built up, and i would definetely recommend this movie.


Reviewed by: zarrsadus
Date: 06/08/2002
Summary: The start of the fun

So I finally got around to seeing the first Conman movie after seeing the other two (in Vegas and in Tokyo). The gambling action was nice and dramatic, and the comedy was good but could've been more. This one is more serious than the other two films, and that was kind of nice since it concentrated more on the plot and didn't get too silly. Nick Cheung was funny as usual and played his part really well. Andy was just being himself, the ultra-cool gambling master. Recommended movie and if you see this, definately think about watching the next two movies, The Conmen in Vegas and The Conman in Tokyo. Both are great movies and are more comedy and gambling fun. This movie gets 8 out of 10.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 04/16/2002
Summary: Average

So the G.O.G series continues...

For Wong Jing, this is not actually that bad. But still has it's serious flaws. Nothing like his earlier official G.O.G films.

Worth seeing if you like gambling films, otherwise, it's a miss.

Rating: 2.5/5

Reviewed by: Trigger
Date: 11/20/2001

It's pretty decent. It's about conmen obviously. It starts out really heavy and then kinda settles down after a bit into a lighter toned film. It's about Andy Lau being a conman and a womanizer and just a bad guy. Then one of his gambling cons goes bad and he gets beaten and thrown in jail. The beating caused him to lose his ability to see color (which they didn't really explore as quite the weakness they built it up to be). He's released from jail after 5 years a gentler man with alot more good in his heart. He's still a conman though and quickly gets back into it, but only for good and so he can reunite with his wife and child.

Andy Lau is actually likable in this film - normally I don't much care for his characters, but once he is released from jail he's quite likable. The supporting cast is decent and there's a few HK cinema "in-jokes". The plot has some weak moments, but it is a Wong Jing movie - so what do you expect. It's not a comedy, but there's a good balance of comedy in it along with drama. The cons are interesting and clever enough. The ending was forgettable.

Overall it's a decent flick - I'll have to watch the next 2 films to see if this story is to stand on its own or if it's better as part of a larger arc in these people's lives. I guess I'd give it a thumbs up but only 6.6/10.

The DVD is Mei Ah and it's among their better produced DVDs. It was kinda skipping a little on my player, but I think it's just cuz my player needs to be cleaned. It's still a nice DVD with 5.1 and 2.0 sound in cantonese and mandarin and the video quality is nice as well.

So - feel free to give me another one to watch... maybe if I get bored sometime - I'll post a list of the films I have... maybe even mark the ones I haven't watched.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 02/12/2001
Summary: Average

Nowhere as good as the older "Gambling movies" but decent enough to watch.

I re watched this movie, and this time it had the beginning to it (the bad version i saw first time around missed 5 minutes of the beginning) The beginning sets up the atmosphere and carries it through the movie.

This is more of a serious movie than most gambling movies. Andy Lau plays his part well, but there REALLy is a lack of gambling in this. Some tricks here and there but i expected more. The ending is very unrealistic but very creative as well!! (The soccer game!!)

A better movie, now that i saw the beginning!!


Reviewed by: MilesC
Date: 07/21/2000
Summary: Strange...

(Small, unsurprising spoilers) Wong Jing seems to be running out of ideas. This is two movies in a year in which a bald guy puts Andy Lau's son in the hospital (to be forgotten) and has his wife gang-raped. These are only a few of the more repugnant and inappropriate moments in a film that is, essentially, a comedy. I do like to be surprised, and a comedy doesn't have to be totally free of grim moments, but this is too much. Wong Jing's use of gratuitous violence and his casual attitude towards rape makes me ill.

Moral qualms aside, though, this is an okay movie. Nothing special, a pleasant watch; naturally, the expected "big con" ending is fun. The "surprise ending" is funny for being so unexpected, but will probably leave you saying "so WTF happened to..." Still, Wong Jing beats the hell out of Aman Chang. Worth watching if you don't have much else to do.

Reviewed by: magic-8
Date: 06/08/2000
Summary: Lau Does the Job

Wong Jing returns to the gambling genre that he helped to build with films like "The God of Gamblers." There will be many comparisons to Jing's earlier work, but "The Conman" is more of a contemporary retelling of the tale with a slight twist. Instead of a gambler that never loses, we have a gambler that cannot win without using his card-sharp skills. Andy Lau has grown into the role of King. There may have been a time when he wasn't mature enough to handle such a role, but he can now command the type of respect necessary for the character of King, a fallen card sharp.

In "The Conman" we get to see Nick Cheung as the side kick, a position that Lau had when Chow Yun Fat was the leading man in "The God of Gamblers." Nick shows great promise in this film. Where "The Conman" deviates from previous gambler films is in its straightforward denouement of King as a fallen sharper. Lau as King gets a chance at revenge while getting involved in a bevy of contrived circumstances that present themselves when he gets mixed up with Nick's sister, played by Athena Chu.

One of the nice touches is the presentation of the action through the placement of the camera. When the movie goes about its business of telling the story, the camera is usually centered. Whenever the action takes place, the camera is above or below center, giving the viewer a film noir-like camera angle. When the camera looks upward, downward or is askance we know something is about to take place outside the film's narrative.

"The Conman" is a return for Wong Jing to what he knows best, and what he's very successful at; a view of the gaming underworld that is nasty, and in this case, a tad grittier than in his earlier works. Where "The God of Gamblers" put Chow on a pedastal, "The Conman" is more universal in that it portrays Lau as an everyman, and he pulls it off in a convincing fashion. He no longer has to apologize for being just another pop-icon who happens to be in a movie. Lau has reached a point where he is comfortable with himself on the screen. He can now be called an actor.

Reviewed by: grimes
Date: 04/09/2000

The Conman appears to be Wong Jing's attempt to return to the massive success of the classic God of Gamblers films. In fact, from what I can tell, the Chinese title would literally translate as "Saint of Gamblers 1999" The Conman, while a good film in its own right, is no God of Gamblers and Andy Lau is no Chow Yun-Fat.

Andy Lau plays King, a conman who kills a man at the beginning of the film, in a gambling scam gone bad. His wife, pregnant with their child, leaves him at the same time because of his adultery. When he gets out five years, he is befriended by Dragon, a low level triad member, and his sister Ching (Athena Chu).

The plot is pretty straightforward, though well executed. Andy Lau plays yet another charming guy (he really needs to try something different one of these days) and the actor who plays Dragon provides some good comic relief.

The Conman is a fun film and provides quality entertainment, though nothing terribly innovative. It is good for an evening of light entertainment when you're not in the mood to have to think too hard.

Reviewed by: sharon
Date: 03/26/2000
Summary: Yet another one...

Director, Wong Jing follows the similar plot line to all other gambling movies and this movie was no different. Andy Lau plays King, a sharper who in the beginning acts as a heartless, stone faced man who abandonned his pregnant wife. But he gets what's coming to him when he was caught cheating at a game of "Choi Dai De". He was sent to prison and years later, when is aged with wisdom he got out.

Nick Cheung (Dragon) quickly befriends King and become his lovable sidekick. Well, from this point, they set out to find King's wife and his son. And as expected, in gambling movies, they get into trouble.

But hey, gambling movies are easy to predict. And without a doubt, the final scenes are with King back at the table playing for something worth more than money. Being the hero in the story, he also gets the girl (Dragon's sister).

This isn't a great movie at all. Besides the comical antics of Nick Cheung, this wasn't worth my time watching. The female charcters could of been better used in the movie, if the director wasn't already busy making stupid commercial parodies for the movie, which is just pointless.

******* 1 star/5 ********

Reviewed by: Mark
Date: 12/30/1999
Summary: A less mythic breed of gambler

Wong Jing created the stuff of Hong Kong cinema legend with his films starring Chow Yun Fat as the God of Gamblers, the man who always smiled, never lost, and dressed to kill. In this unrelated sequel, it seems that the Asian economic crisis has brought out a less mythic breed of gambler. King (Andy Lau) is a sharper whose maxim is "If you don't cheat, you are never guaranteed to win". The downside of cheating is getting caught, and when a mobster takes exception to King's technique the resulting melee leaves two dead. King goes to jail for five years, and loses his partner, his wife and the child he's never seen. All he gets in return is a head of grey hair and a mournful harmonica soundtrack.

Eventually he's back on the streets and takes on a new partner, the incorrigible Little Dragon (Nick Cheung). Together they rescue Dragon's sister Ching Ching (Athena Chu) from a swindler and then set out to make their first billion, a task which involves a lot more Computing Logical Systems and a lot less hair gel than Dragon had expected. When he complains, King asks him "Would you rather be a happy loser or a boring winner?" Things get far from boring when the malevolent Handsome (Waise Lee) blackmails King into taking on the legendary Macau Mon (Jack Kao) in a fifty million dollar game for his money and his life.

If you're not used to Hong Kong's no holds barred cinema, "The Conman" may not be for you. Distressingly, director Wong characterises not one but all of his bad gangsters and corrupt cops by their violence to women, both threatened and real. In fact, the women in the film are all either victims or wallpaper (and often both). This sits uneasily in the same film that has a highly comic scam involving a faked broadcast of the World Cup. King's range of skills have no consistent pattern, moving from trickster to pool shark to cheater to statistician, making for an entertaining series of vignettes but nothing approaching consistent characterisation.

Luckily, the movie is saved by the audacity of the scams, the wickedness of the gags, the fast pace of the plot and the some very stylish cinematography. Nick Cheung's enjoyable performance as the always-optimistic Dragon is worth the price of admission, and Wong's own cameo as a crooked TV director called Squirrel is a hoot. It's also great to see Waise Lee in action again - those 1980s actors sure do look like original gangsters when they hit the screen. All in all, it's a dodgy but entertaining piece of fictional gambling - even when it's as sordid as this, it's still more exciting than the real thing.

Reviewed by: tim
Date: 12/26/1999
Summary: Andy's King

A supposed a continuation of the "God of Gamblers" series. Professional gambler (or sharper) King (Andy Lau) ditches his pregnant wife for the SAR's gambling dens, only to wind up in jail for a razor blade attack on opposing gambler Bad Temper. King's released five years later and, colour blind and grey-haired, he finds his wife has vanished and gets back to the dice with the help of underling Dragon (Nick Cheung). Bad Temper's brother, named Handsome, hits the scene and forces King into a showdown against the King of Big Two.

With all its groovy gambler names like Dragon and Macau Mon sprinkled through the plot, "The Conman" comes across as more complex than it really is. Plenty of gambling trickery is thrown in (though less supernatural and enjoyable than in the Chow Yun-fat originals) and a lot is played for laughs; especially once director Wong Jing hits the scene as a trashy TV producer and hi-tech gambling aid. Andy Lau takes on the lead role with a suave manner well while other cast members are somewhat less memorable. Generally, a mindless, enjoyable couple of hours' viewing.