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Plot: reclusive gambler is forced out of retirement when a rival kills his wife

When Jing Wong puts his mind to things and gets it right, he does so with flying colors. In the half decade between God Of Gambers (1989) and this sequel a number of spin-offs and sub-franchises kept the burgeoning gambling genre alive. Chow Yun-Fat, now a veritable HK action star thanks to his work with John Woo, returned to his iconic role as Ko Chun. God Of Gamblers Return is everything that the first movie was but bigger in every sense of the word. Tightly directed, beautifully photographed and with a cast including, among others, Tony Leung, Chingmy Yau, Elvis Tsui and Ng Sin-Lin God Of Gamblers Return is one of those rare sequels that is actually better than the original film. The action is hard-hitting, the jokes work, and the women are uniformly beautiful. In God Of Gamblers Return everthing works and it’s free of Wong’s more annoying tendencies. No wonder it passed the HK$ 50 million (HK52,541,028) mark at the HK box office.

God Of Gamblers (1989) established gambling as a genre of its own. An official sequel not immediately forthcoming Jing Wong (and others) capitalized on the movie’s box office success with All For the Winner (1990) and Casino Tycoon (1992). All For the Winner spoofed God Of Gambers but was succesfull enough to become its own franchise. God Of Gamblers II (1990) acted both a sequel to the Chow Yun-Fat original and as a pseudo-sequel to the earlier All For the Winner (1990). All For the Winner (1990) was headlined by rising star Stephen Chow and The Top Bet (1991) installed Carol Cheng Yu-Ling and Anita Mui as the star gamblers. For maximum possible confusion Cheng Yu-Ling starred in The Queen of Gamble (1991). God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai (1991) took an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach and is probably the craziest of the Stephen Chow sub-franchise. It wasn’t until 1994 that Wong produced an official sequel to his earlier smash hit. Evidently God Of Gamblers Return was worth the wait.

It has been 5 long years since Ko Chun, the God Of Gambers (Chow Yun-Fat) has made any public appearances. In his absence his apprentice Little Knife has since become a reputable gambler of great renown. For four years Chun has lived in great anonimity in France where he picked up painting. Since a year he’s back at home and living a quiet life on his opulent estate with his pregnant second wife Wan Yau (Sharla Cheung, as Man Cheung), a spitting image of his first spouse. His friend Lung Ng (Charles Heung Wah-Keung) comes over for a visit and the two engage in a friendly shooting match in the gardens of the estate. Suddenly a convoy of black limos arrive at the estate disgorging the number one contender to Ko Chun’s title, Chau Siu Chue (Wu Hsing-Guo). Ko Chun’s wife Wan Yau is brutally shot, gutted and his unborn son is torn from the womb and kept in a jar. All mere preamble to coerce Ko Chun into a gambling duel in Taiwan. Yau forbids Chun to gamble and reveal his identity for a year as to not plunge him into an impulsive act of retribution. As Yau passes away in his arms Ko Chun promises to honor her dying wish. For the next 11 months Chun travels the world as a shadow, avoiding most human contact and never having his picture taken.

He arrives in Mainland China where dazzling beautiful young girl Hoi Tong (Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching) catches his eye when taking a picture. Before long he’s making his acquaintance with her precocious little brother Hoi Yuen (Xie Miao) and their gangster father Hoi On (Blacky Ko Sau-Leung, as Blackie Ko). A power struggle within the criminal organisation that Hoi On works for has ambitious underling Tao Kwun (Ken Lo Wai-Kwong) violently attacking the boat on Qingdao lake that Ko Chun and his new friends are on. In his dying breath Hoi On entrusts Ko Chun with the care of his children. As they wash ashore in Mainland China they are immediately arrested and detained by the communist People's Armed Police under command of Capt. Kok Ching Chung (Elvis Tsui Kam-Kong) and his high-maintenance wife (Bonnie Fu Yuk-Jing). Thanks to some quick thinking Ko Chun and Hoi Yuen escape imprisonment, but their daring escape leads to a massive hard-target manhunt of the two fugitive felons. The duo seek shelter in a nearby low-rent motel where they meet grifter sibling duo Siu Fong-Fong or Little Trumpet (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) and his younger sister Siu Yiu-Yiu, or Little Guitar (Ng Sin-Lin, as Chien-Lien Wu) who is terrible as a hostess and even worse as a waitress but harbors a crush on the God Of Gamblers, of whom she possesses a picture.

The People's Armed Police eventually surround the motel where Hoi Yuen has defeated the grifters at Black Jack. The police assault to building razing it to the ground in the process and the gang gets away by pretending to be police officers and taking commander Bo hostage. The four charter a boat to Tainam, Taiwan as command of the police forces is taken over by Cheung Po Sing (Wong Kam-Kong), a mentalist who refers to himself as the Treasure of Mainland. The gang arrive in Taiwan with only three days to spare. En route to the Taiwanese casino Ko Chun and the gang reconnect with Hoi Tong, who makes a spectacular entrance in the establishment. Bound to keep his identity secret Ko Chun pretends to be Little Knife, the apprentice of the God Of Gamblers with Little Trumpet taking on Ko Chun’s identity. Chan Gam Sing (Bau Hon-Lam), Cho’s opponent from the first film, warns the God Of Gamblers that Chau Siu Chue will stop at nothing to defeat him. Chau Siu Chue’s forces storm the casino and in the ensuing fracas Little Guitar takes a bullet but not before realizing that she spent her dying moments (and the days before) in company of her biggest idol. Sworn to avenge the slayings of Little Guitar and his wife Wan Yau, Ko Chun faces off against Chau Siu Chue, the self-proclaimed Devil Of Gamblers, in a match of Chinese poker.

There couldn’t be a bigger difference between this movie and the first. God Of Gamblers for the most part was a situational – and slapstick comedy bookended by high-stake gambling segments from whence it derived its name. God Of Gamblers Return on the other hand makes full use of Yun-Fat’s new status as HK action star. The many bullet ballet action scenes are redolent of John Woo, be it that they only miss the characteristic long trenchcoats and cool sunglasses. The comedy now is merely limited to moments in between dramatic character scenes, violent shoot-outs, and the thing everybody’s here for: the gambling matches. Chow Yun-Fat obviously relished in returning to one of his most famous characters, and whether he’s playing the suave, worldly gambler or the scruffy looking every guy in his civilian identity Yun-Fat shines. Tony Leung’s Little Trumpet is an obvious substitute for Andy Lau’s Little Knife (who starred in his own gambling franchise with All For the Winner) and the chemistry between Yun-Fat, Leung and Ng Sin-Lin is one of the movie’s greatest accomplishments.

Jing Wong never hid his adoration for Chingmy Yau, and who in the right mind could possibly blame him? In 1994 Yau was a HK superstar thanks to her appearances in Naked Killer (1992), Future Cops (1993), the wuxia spoof Legend of the Liquid Sword (1993), the failed franchise launcher Kung Fu Cult Master (1993) with Jet Li and City Hunter (1993) with Jackie Chan and Joey Wong. It’s common knowledge that Wong and Yau had an affair for many years prior to Chingmy’s marriage in 1999. No other woman in the cast, not even the considerably higher profile Sharla Cheung, gets as many flattering shots and the most beautiful dresses to wear as Yau gets here. The scene where Hoi Tong makes her entrance in the Taiwan casino and cuts the cards for the goons is legendary for all the right reasons. Yau gets to show some leg and partake in an impressive bout wire-fu stuntwork in a sequence that borrows equally from his earlier Naked Killer (1992) and Future Cops (1993), respectively. No matter what role Wong cast Yau in she always was sure to steam up whatever scenes she was in even if the movie itself was a dud.

God Of Gamblers Return is in all ways superior to the 1989 original. Chow Yun-Fat was a handful of years away from conquering the western world with the period costume wuxia Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). God Of Gamblers Return makes full usage of Yun-Fat’s status as a HK action star and the aspect is played up more than before. Some two decades later Xie Miao would star in Tsui Hark's The Thousand Faces Of Dunjia (2017). Jing Wong’s juvenile humor is kept an absolute minimum. Obviously God Of Gamblers Return was a prestige project for Wong as no expenses were spared making it bigger and better than the original. Wong puts greater emphasis on the characters and the arc that each goes through as the movie progresses. Of course God Of Gamblers Return is a popcorn flick at heart and even though it will occassionally pull some sentimental strings it makes no pretense of being a drama or character study. Jing Wong will never be a Tsui Hark but when a philistine like him gets things right fireworks do tend to follow…

The original Nemesis (1992) was a good example of how to make a dystopian science-fiction action romp. It transcended its budgetary limitations thanks to an intelligent screenplay that left plenty to explore in potential sequels. It also proved quite lucrative in the home video market. Nemesis (1992) had style to spare and its action was explosive and elegant enough that it had some minor Hong Kong aspirations. Olivier Gruner couldn’t act if his life depended on it but he was surrounded by an ensemble of players that (for the most part) have gone to have respectable careers in Hollywood. What sold Nemesis (1992) is that it combined John Woo bullet ballet action sequences (complete with trenchcoats, sunglasses and short-skirted babes branding big guns) with faux-philosophical wanderings about the human condition and what it means to be human. It was equal parts Blade Runner (1982), RoboCop (1987) with a nigh on indestructable enemy modeled liberally after The Terminator (1984). In short, it was everything (and more) you’d want out of a science-fiction/action romp. There was tons of promise and potential for a franchise after its initial manifesting. Unfortunately nothing is ever as straightforward and Nemesis 2: Nebula is a first such exhibit.

Before long Hawaiian director Albert Pyun found himself back at the drawingboard to start pre-production on a possible follow-up. One of the primary aspects that was responsible for lifting Nemesis (1992) out of the dregs of the low-budget action morass was an articulate screenplay written by Rebecca Charles and an uncredited David S. Goyer. Neither had any interest in returning for the sequel and neither had Parisian kickboxer Olivier Gruner that matter. In fact nobody from the original returned. Those hoping to see Tim Thomerson, Thom Mathews, or Brion James as primary antagonists will be sorely disappointed and equally absent are Borovnisa Blervaque, Marjorie Monaghan, and Merle Kennedy. This where things get murky and it’s not clear what led to the materializing of the feature that would eventually become Nemesis 2: Nebula. What is clear is that in 1995 Pyun helmed a feature starring Sue Price and Chad Stahelski in the barren deserts of Globe, Arizona. The shooting was fertile and the finished feature was over three hours long. It’s unclear whether it was Pyun or his producers who vetoed that the excess footage of the shoot was to be used to edit together a third feature along with newly shot footage from additional production days. Whereas Nemesis (1992) was a budget-efficient derivative of James Cameron’s infinitely superior The Terminator (1984), Nemesis 2: Nebula blatantly apes John McTiernan’s Predator (1987) and George P. Cosmatos’ Rambo (1985) instead.

Replacing the absent Olivier Gruner is award-winning bodybuilder Sue Price who landed the part Kristie Phillips and Kathy Long auditioned for. Stuntman Chad Stahelski is the titular Nebula, a cybernetic infiltration unit decked out with light-bending camouflage, a mounted shoulder-cannon, and various surveillance options (radar, infra-red, audio, voice analytics, et al) in its HUD. Nebula also happens to look like a cross between Predator (1987), David Cronenberg’s iteration of The Fly (1986) and one of the rubber-suited monsters from Infra Man (1975). The other well-known face in the cast is Tina Cote who went from an extra in Francis Ford Coppola’s opulent Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) to the wacky world of Albert Pyun in just a few years. For reasons largely unexplained director Pyun has decided to abandon the dystopian cyberpunk setting of the original Nemesis and along with it much its over-the-top Hong Kong heroic bloodshed inspired cinematography, gunplay, and stuntwork. Depending on the scene Nemesis 2: Nebula either tends to look like as a gender-swapped Rambo (1985) or a post-apocalyptic desert flick from Cirio H. Santiago. In fact this would have worked better as a feminine variant on Rambo than anything else. Nemesis 2: Nebula looks as if it was it was a stand-alone production with the Nemesis mythology forcibly shoehorned in to make the most of what little budget was around. Suffice to say, Nemesis 2: Nebula barely has any connection to the 1992 original. It marked the start of a strange journey that would continue with the futile Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) (or Prey Harder, depending on the territory) and take a turn for the bizarre with the staggeringly incompetent Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996).

2077. Humanity has been enslaved by the cyborgs. 73 years have passed since Alex Rain valiantly tried to topple the cyborg uprising… and failed. Scientists have developed a new strain of DNA, injected it into a baby girl (Zachary Studer) and a volunteer surrogate mother Zana (Karen Studer) has agreed to carry her to term. When the cyborgs find out about Zana and the DNA baby they send out platinum blonde twin mercenaries Lock (Sharon Bruneau) and Ditko (Debbie Muggli) to ensure that mother and daughter are both destroyed. Zana is able to transport the baby back to 1980 East Africa before being killed. A local tribe accepts the orphaned baby as one of their own and in the year 2000, some twenty years, later Alex Raine (Sue Price) has become a formidable, musclebound warrior. Having at long last found Alex’ present whereabouts the cyborgs dispatch a highly-advanced bounty hunter called Nebula (Chad Stahelski) to dispose of the genetically-engineered Raine who’s prophesied to bring down the cyborg regime. Amidst the chaos of her various confrontations with Nebula in the desert Alex runs into shady treasure hunters Emily (Tina Cote) and Sam (Tracy Davis) who have chartered a small plane and hide mysterious golden coins. Will Raine be strong enough to defeat Nebula with only these primitive weapons at her disposal?

What Nemesis 2: Nebula makes painfully clear is that Albert Pyun is a terrible screenwriter. Had this remained the stand-alone feature it was probably intended as things would be a whole lot different. As far as Predator (1987) and Rambo (1985) derivatives go, this one is at least halfway entertaining. However as a Nemesis (1992) follow-up there’s no reason to be quite so charitable and forgiving. Even as a in-name only sequel Nemesis 2: Nebula only has the flimsiest of connections to the original and it makes the cardinal mistake of inventing an entire new mythology that at no point resembles or echoes the spirit or aesthetic of its superior forebear. Pyun has the new Alex Raine engaged in a decisive confrontation with a highly-advanced adversary that never was so much as mentioned in the original. It also places Raine a good 4 years ahead of the timeline of Nemesis (1992) which raises all sorts of questions: if, theoretically speaking, Alex Raine defeated the cyborg threat in 2000 doesn’t that render her efforts futile as her genetic forefather Alex Rain was fighting the uprising in 2004 still? If Nebula and time-travel devices existed in the original timeline why then did the cyborgs not send Nebula after the original Alex Rain instead of an isolated, solitary infiltration unit (Farnsworth)? Pyun’s screenplay creates a whole set of new problems that Nemesis (1992) was free of because Rebecca Charles and David S. Goyer actually knew what they were doing. Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) and Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996) in no shape or form ever helped forwarding the narrative. No. Only Dustin Ferguson’s belated sequel Nemesi5: the New Model (2018) would attempt that, but it did so by drawing all the wrong conclusions from the three Sue Price episodes.

Under the circumstances Sue Price is the least of the production’s rather fundamental problems. Price acquits herself admirably in what in charitably can be described as a 90-minute chase scene. Pyun was wise enough to limit Price’s dialogues to be absolute required minimum to maintain a simulacrum of humanity. Price throws herself into the character in the way you’d expect of a professional athlete and fate has been somewhat retroactively cruel to her as her appearance in Nemesis 2: Nebula and Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) at least should have made her a reliable supporting actress in low-budget action and science-fiction. Was Sue Price ever good enough an actress to headline her own feature? That’s debatable but Albert Pyun also worked with Robert Patrick shortly after his tenure in Filipino exploitation with Cirio H. Santiago. Patrick cut his teeth under Santiago and only became an action hopeful with a small supporting part in Die Hard 2 (1990) (where he had but a single line of dialogue) which led to him being cast in James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Price, on the other hand, never was given such an opportunity. Also upgraded in the company of stock players is Pyun muse Tina Cote who would become the director’s de facto leading lady from this point forward. As these things tend to go Cote never got her due either and she’s criminally underused in a plot that’s barely threadbare to begin with. Had this followed the dystopian cyberpunk setting of the original Tina Cote had made a decent replacement for Marjorie Monaghan. Why Borovnisa Blervaque never was cast in a Pyun production again is a question for the ages too as she was the best thing about Nemesis (1992) by far.

That Nemesis 2: Nebula looks and feels completely different from Nemesis (1992) gives credence to the notion that it was originally conceived as a different stand-alone feature. The differences are staggering and everything that made Pyun’s surprise minor cyberpunk/action hit so brazen and inventive is sorely absent in the sequel. Nemesis 2: Nebula would probably have been a lot better had it been kept in its intended form. As a brute science fiction/action hybrid it’s worthwhile enough and can compete with many a post-nuke action flick from either Italy or the Philippines. However it’s beholden to a whole set of different expectations since it comes bearing the Nemesis (1992) name. Nemesis 2: Nebula has only the most threadbare of connections to the movie from whence it came and does nothing to forward the mythology. Sue Price shouldn’t bear the brunt of the blame for the fiasco this turned into. No. The blame should squarely be cast at the feet of writer/director Albert Pyun and his moneymen. At some point during production someone, either in the director’s chair or on the production end, should have realized that Nemesis 2: Nebula bore about zero connection with Nemesis (1992). Had this been turned into a stand-alone mini-franchise then Price could’ve probably built a modest career out of it. Nemesis 2: Nebula (and its ill-begotten sequels) damaged the careers of everybody involved. Somehow you’d expect more from a franchise name after the ancient Greek goddess of retribution.