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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…

Plot: hapless gardener is seduced by a mother and her underage daughter

Not all Gloria Guida comedies are created equal. Just like Fernando di Leo’s Blue Jeans (1975) before it That Malicious Age is another of these rather bland melodramatic and slightly tragic coming-of-age commedia sexy all’italiana exercises that are part and parcel in Guida’s early-to-mid seventies repertoire. Like any of the titles preceding it That Malicious Age has a proclivity towards melodrama but that doesn’t stop it from featuring more than a copious amount of Guida in advanced state of undress and a handful of risqué situations that it could easily classify as a regular soft erotic romp. Is it one of Gloria Guida’s best outings? That’s entirely dependent on what you come to these things for. What it does feature is enough Gloria Guida in the buff to satisfy anyone’s cravings.

Silvio Amadio was crazy about Gloria Guida. Perfectly understandable given how lovely la Guida was one of the prime Lolitas of the commedia sexy all’italiana. No, Amadio wasn’t just crazy about her. He was obsessed with her. He had filmed glorious Gloria earlier in the not entirely creatively stunted The Underage Girl (1974) and would do so again in So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (1975). Unfortunately Guida didn’t reciprocitate his amorous feelings and Amadio descended into a self-destructive tailspin as a result. Gloria - whose shapely derrière was made a legend in its own right by Mario Imperoli’s Monika (1974) and Blue Jeans (1975) - was in a relationship with famed showman/crooner Johnny Dorelli and no on-set fling with a celebrated director was worth that risk. However Guida’s claim to cinematic immortality was to come in the form of Michele Massimo Tarantini’s La Liceale (1975) (released in North America as The Teasers) with Giuseppe Pambieri and a few years down the line with Fernando di Leo’s irreverent, subtextual and widely misunderstood satire To Be Twenty (1978) where la Guida was in company of fellow Lolita Lilli Carati, genre veteran Vittorio Caprioli and the late, great Ray Lovelock.

At behest of his high-strung (off-screen and uncredited) wife out-of-work painter Napoleone “Nino” Castellano (Nino Castelnuovo) takes up a gardening job at a summer mansion in the municipality of Portoferraio on the Mediterranean island of Elba on the Tuscan Archipelago. En route to the job interview Nino makes his acquaintance on a crowded bus with a stunning blue-eyed blonde who immediately starts flirting with him. Once at his destination he awkwardly bumbles his way through the job interview with the family matriarch (Anita Sanders), a bored socialite housewife, who instantly makes advances towards him. It is then that Nino finds out that the attractive girl he met on the bus earlier is his employer’s daughter Paola (Gloria Guida). Paola lives with her mother and absent stepfather and writer Adolfo (Andrea Aureli). As Nino settles into his new surroundings and starts to work around the house he is alternately pushed into compromising positions by the mother as well as the daughter. As the dance of seduction from mother and daughter alike intensifies things take a turn for the tragic for Nino when Paola spurs the advances of a Spanish fisherman (Mimmo Palmara) living in a nearby shack.

That Malicious Age is, of course, a tour de force for everybody’s favorite soon-to-be schoolgirl Gloria Guida. While rather demure compared to some of her other work That Malicious Age sees Anita Sanders in the habit of undressing in front of Nino for no particular reason. It has Guida’s Paola doing a sultry striptease in front of the window and her conveniently leaving the door to her room open whenever she undresses. A particularly suggestive scene has Paola giving Nino an implied footjob when the two of them are driving back from Portoferraio with the company of Paola’s blissfully unaware parents in the back. That Malicious Age concludes with its most memorable scene that sees Paola running around completely naked in Calenzano pinewoods. Since no Gloria Guida comedy or melodrama is complete without its share of tragedy her nude scene is a prelude to the movie’s downbeat conclusion. The entire thing is pervaded by tragedy as it truly is about the sheer dysfunctionality of the bourgeoisie. Nino finds himself martyred (his Christ pose when Paola falls into his arms drives the point home well enough) and ousted from the community after coming to nubile Paola’s rescue towards the very end.

The cast for That Malicious Age is an assortment of young new stars and respected elders in supporting roles. Nino Castelnuovo was a regular in comedy, drama and romance al through the sixties and seventies. His many credits include, among others, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (1964), Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975), La Collegiale (1975), Star Odyssey (1979), and The English Patient (1996). Anita Sanders was a former Swedish model of no visible talent that would retire from acting after That Malicious Age. Mimmo Palmara was a monument of the Golden Age of Italian cinema and a pillar in the peplum and spaghetti western genres. Palmera made appearances in, among many others, the Pietro Francisci pulp sword-and-sandal epic The Labors Of Hercules (1958) and its amiable sequel Hercules Unchained (1959), The Trojan Horse (1961), the Eurospy-fumetti curiosity Argoman, the Fantastic Superman (1967) and The Arena (1974).

Andrea Aureli was another monument of the Golden Age of Italian cinema and a regular in peplum, spaghetti western and poliziotteschi. His credits include diverse offerings as Paprika (1991), Adam and Eve Meet the Cannibals (1983), Lady Frankenstein (1971), Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968) and The Last Of the Vikings (1961). The most famous among the crew was director of photography Antonio Maccoppi who was a frequent collaborator of Amadio and lend his talents to Killer Nun (1979), Our Lady Of Lust (1972), So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (1975), Nude For Satan (1974), The Underage Girl (1974), Secret Confessions in a Cloistered Convent (1972) and School of Erotic Enjoyment (1971) where Malisa Longo's breasts deserved a credit of their own.

Gloria Guida might not have been the cream of the crop of the commedia sexy all’Italiana as far as acting talent was concerned but her presence illuminated whatever production she found herself in. That Malicious Age isn’t especially funny or sizzling sexy although it never fails to find creative or far-fetched excuses to have Guida undress or lose articles of clothing. Nino Castelnuovo is an amiable leading man and his interactions with Anita Sanders and Gloria Guida are what make That Malicious Age work. It never aspires to the same creative heights as The Underage Girl (1974) and seems content to dwell in the same general sphere as Mario Imperoli’s Monika (1974) and Blue Jeans (1975). There are enough shots of la Guida’s legendary derrière and the third act introduction of Paola’s boyfriend Franco (Mario Garriba) is too little too late to be of any meaning. The Mimmo Palmara subplot feels like an afterthought and the bittersweet conclusion only seems there to have the expected level of tragedy that apparently no Gloria Guida comedy is complete without. It’s competent and enjoyable enough, but Guida had yet to manifest actual acting talent in Fernando di Leo’s To Be Twenty (1978).