Directed by Li Shaohong, A City Called Macau follows casino broker Xiao-Ou (Bai Baihe) working in Macau after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1999. Amid financial and medical outbreaks, she encounters developer Duan Keiwen (Wu Gang) and sculptor Shi Qilian (Huang Jie). As the two play with her emotions, she struggles to find fulfilment in her work.
A City Called Macau is a far cry from the neon glitz of Scorcese’s Casino or the chic chaos of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy. Instead, Li brings a realist though ironic view on gambling through the perspective of a casino broker – someone who offer high-interest lines of credit for big-stake gamblers. Initially aloof, Xiao-Ou has a no-nonsense approach that defines her success. But when these two men enter her life, her emotional barriers start to crumble and overrule her judgement. It is not until a drunken monologue where we see her fragility as a working single mother, as well as the coldness of the men around her.
Li also uses the film to show the power of addiction through Duan and Shi. Through their arrogance, they see not only Xiao-Ou but others in her profession as a limitless piggy bank. This ultimately feeds their greed with personal and professional ramifications that emotively haunt Xiao-Ou. Their downfalls also serve as an allegory on their relationships with her as she risks everything on blind faith – only to be repeatedly disappointed.
As the narrative takes place over several years, the inconsistent editing and dialogue cause scenes to inexplicably jump from one to another. Li tries to cover the cracks using sweeping panoramic shots and a stylised direction that highlights Macau with mixed results. Cast-wise, Baihe offer composure and control to deliver a steady performance. In contrast, the male cast members offer very little to comparison, leaving the film to become a vehicle for Baihe and, of course, Macau.
It comes across as a sun-kissed drama behind the dangers of gambling with an endearing protagonist at its core. But overall, A City of Macau‘s inconsistencies prevent it from being a compelling feature.
Director: Li Shaohong
Stars: Bai Baihe, Wu Gang, Huang Jie
Runtime: 127 minutes