Andy Lau, in his second hit gambling themed flick of the time (the other being the classic ‘God of Gamblers’), is Crab a streetwise card shark who upon getting released from doing a recent stint, partners up with his old buddy (and gambling ace!) Sam (Alan Tam) in the hope of finding their next big score. Said score comes in the form of heading to Lake Tahoe in the States to worm out a group of Japanese hustlers shaking down the local casino run by a renowned Hong Kong boss. The two root them out with ease and head back to Hong Kong with fortune, and for Sam, love in tow. However, the Japanese vow retribution which tests the two would-be-brothers loyalty to the limit as their lives take on very different paths. When tragedy strikes and the threat of Japanese retribution shows little sign of fading, the showdown is set for the ultimate poker game to settle the score once and for all.
A much more sprawling and sombre affair compared to the often-over-the-top theatrics and action of ‘God of Gamblers’, ‘Casino Raiders’ may be light on laughs and gunplay but it’s a riveting drama of brotherly loyalty taken to the extreme in the high risk world of gangster gambling. Lau and Tam are great as the leads, sharing believable chemistry with Lau particularly good as the more hot-headed of the two. While the film never reaches the truly heroic bloodshed heights of say similar fare of the era (‘A Better Tomorrow’, ‘City on Fire’, ‘God of Gamblers’) much more concerned with how the Lake Tahoe job fallout affects their lives, love lives, and friendship in different ways than oodles of gunplay, ‘Casino Raiders’ is perhaps more character and drama driven than other golden era fare. Thankfully the over-reliance on OTT comedy and theatrics that co-director/co-writer Wong Jing is known for is toned down here to create a much more riveting drama.
There are flashes of action and certainly bouts of extreme violence (when Crab and Sam are caught up by gangsters in Hong Kong and given a pummelling!) here and there but it’s the gambling world set drama that rivets: leading to a surprising turn of events in the finale. There’s also great support from Idy Chan and Rosamund Kwan as the strong willed, but often suffering, spouses of the two men, solid support from Eddy Ko, Lung Fong, Charles Heung, and also look out for cameos from the likes of Bruce Fontaine and Robin Shou in early roles.
Not as saturated with action as some of its ilk of the time but a solid gangster gambling drama nonetheless with the two leads at the top of their game. A Hong Kong golden era gem ripe for rediscovery if one has yet to see it.