Originally titled Be Water, My Friend <驕陽歲月> when it was filmed in 2019, this long-delayed Hong Kong dramedy has since settled with a more mainstream-friendly (and generic-sounding) English title, One More Chance <別叫我”賭神”>. The Cantonese title, though, is literally known as “Don’t Call Me God of Gamblers”, an apparent reference to Chow Yun-Fat’s iconic Ko Chun character in the 1989 genre classic.
But don’t expect this to be a parody of sorts, even though Chow Yun-Fat’s character here is also a gambler. Just not the cool-as-cucumber, slicked-back and well-groomed gentleman we have grown accustomed to watching God of Gamblers <賭神> in the ’80s. Instead, his role — Water Ng — is more of a compulsive gambler with the kind of shaggy hairstyle that reminded me of his Ah Long character in All About Ah Long <阿郎的故事>. He likes to gamble day and night and owes a lot of money to a loan shark (Kenny Wong). When he’s not gambling, he has a barbershop to manage with the help of his friends (Liu Kai-Chi and Michael Ning).
One day, Water’s ex-girlfriend Lee Xi (Anita Yuen) appears at his barbershop with a bag of HK$50,000 cash. Not only he would receive the money now but also gets another HK$50,000 if he can take care of Yeung (Will Or) for a month. Yeung, who is also born autistic, happens to be Water’s teenage son as well. Although he refuses to believe he has a son, he still needs the money badly and reluctantly agrees with her condition.
One More Chance <別叫我”賭神”> marks the solo directorial effort of veteran cinematographer Anthony Pun, who previously co-directed alongside Alan Mak in Extraordinary Mission <非凡任務> in 2017. His extensive background in cinematography does help a lot in capturing the rustic and laidback Macau setting, where the movie was reportedly shot on location. The movie looks visually appealing and when it comes to storytelling, it’s nice to have Felix Chong onboard as the screenwriter.
But despite Felix Chong being in charge of the screenplay, the movie is surprisingly old-fashioned in its execution. It sure makes me feel like I’m transported back to the ’80s and ’90s eras of Hong Kong cinema, where a heavy dose of nostalgia factor supersedes everything. The only significant elements missing here are the typically overwrought drama approach and obligatory song montage. Frankly, it was a smart move as the movie works best with the love-hate relationship of father-son dynamics between Chow Yun-Fat’s Water and Will Or’s Yeung. They share excellent chemistry here and I’m glad Will Or doesn’t end up overacting in his role as an autistic teenager.
Not surprisingly, it was Chow Yun-Fat who steals most of the show here as Water. His character’s erratic behaviour is on point here, going from being cheerfully irresponsible to a hot-tempered and desperate individual in a spontaneous manner. Likewise, he can be funny and dramatic whenever a scene requires him.
The rest of his co-stars, Liu Kai-Chi (in one of his final roles) and Michael Ning do what they can in their otherwise limited screen time. Alex Fong (Chung-Sun) delivers equally decent support as Water’s running-coach friend. The latter has a brief, yet superficial subplot revolving around him trying to court a beautiful social worker, Angellia played by Amy Lo. Back to Chow Yun-Fat, his on-screen pairing with Anita Yuen is one of the best things in the movie, even though her appearance is more of a small role than a supporting turn that I’m expecting in the first place.
I have to admit that everything here is clichéd but the combination of Chow Yun-Fat’s typically engaging lead role and the familiarity of its tried-and-true storyline made this movie watchable. But then comes the third act. A lengthy one too, which seriously tested my patience with the movie’s increasingly melodramatic route. I’m sure the narrative approach is meant for us to shed a tear or two. But it somehow doesn’t work for me. In fact, the entire third act almost derails everything the otherwise decent dramedy has built upon up until that point.