Roulette City is an ambitious project, set to maximize its returns with the odds stacked up against it through its limited budget. Like a calculated gambler, Thomas Lim spreads his wings over to Macau takes on multiple roles of producing, directing, writing and acting, diving right into his first film (of any sorts), and probably emerged a winner through the filmmaking experience gained from the school of hard knocks. Like most first films, Roulette City came across with grand plans, and capitalized on its expected raw look and feel to mirror the kind of gritty tale that Lim aimed to tell.
Filmed in the Cantonese language, it is somewhat of a cautionary tale of sorts, reminding us (with those shiny new Integrated Resorts right at our doorstep) that there will always be stories that toot the trumpet of those who have gone up against the house to win, but there are always the heavier flip side of those who have walked away with tails between their legs, and head hung low. For every improbable millionaire made from the gambling table, there will be the probable family destroyed under the same circumstance. Roulette City embraces these two aspects, and like the Roulette game where you can bet on even and odd, there's plenty of duality found in the film, from characters and their intentions, to Tak (Thomas Lim) and his dalliance with two female friends Wynnie (Josephine Chai) his flame from China, and the easy going Armanda (Annie Loi), a croupier in Hong Kong who's working to forge a brighter future for herself.
Yes it took a love story tangent when things started to go awry for the reluctant gambler Tak and his more enthusiastic and optimistically hopeful Uncle (Kiu Po-Chung), who have taken savings meant for the treatment of Tak's ailing mum (Corinna Lee). Since Lady Luck decided to smile and allowed them to make considerable amounts of cash from the underground casinos, only for the latter to be swindled, followed by a grave incident that had Tak and Wynnie wanting to leave Macau through whatever means possible, only to find that there are a number of hoops to jump through, starting with the befriending of Armanda and her border-patrol brother, from whom they think favours can be extended. Unfortunately the narrative became somewhat non-linear with flashbacks later on putting back the missing jigsaw pieces, with a key revelation that plugs the holes in the narrative which will leave you bewildered for a while.
As the film is relatively compact at 75 minutes, the narrative also moved at breakneck speed that can feel choppy with its fast cuts and quick camera movements, which at times called for the sacrifice of a more detailed development of scenes. Things happen as they do and you're left to connect a few dots simultaneously, which of course takes its toil in making Tak's whirlwind romance with Armanda seem believable, and especially how Armanda's brother can flip flop with his trust issues. Some scenes didn't compel you to endure for answers, and I thought they were there to provide more screen time as a showcase for the actors, since a feature can't be a feature if the run time didn't extend enough.
But to be honest it's still a commendable effort to craft a story with its explicit alarms at reminding us there's no short cut to the road of material wealth. Don't be expecting the glitz and glamour associated with the many renowned casinos in Macau in this film, but rather a tale focused on the miserable, negative aspects of Man set in the edgy underground.