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Lay Zhang Yixing in a still from “No More Bets” (category IIB, Mandarin), directed by Shen Ao. Gina Jin Chen co-stars.

Review | No More Bets movie review: Chinese blockbuster about digital scamming is less a thriller than an idiotic take on a very serious subject

  • The very real issue of phone scammers tricking people into work in illegal Southeast Asian call centres is the focus of Chinese blockbuster No More Bets
  • It is a matter of deep concern, yet despite earnest and thorough research by the filmmakers, the movie comes across as idiotic and unintentionally hilarious

1/5 stars

We have all been bombarded by unwanted scam calls, and read the horror headlines about kidnapped tourists being forced to work in illegal Southeast Asian call centres.

No More Bets attempts to spin these stories into an edge-of-your-seat thriller and the results are, in more ways than one, horrifying.

The film, from director Shen Ao and producer Ning Hao, follows a number of characters who are drawn into the devious web of criminal overlord Lu (Eric Wang Chuanjun), a gun-toting wannabe Jordan Belfort.

After Pan (Lay Zhang Yixing) is passed over for promotion, he answers an ad to earn big money in Singapore.

During an inexplicable layover in a Southeast Asian hellhole that resembles a chaotic entanglement of Macau and Myanmar, Pan is kidnapped and taken to a remote cyber farm, where hundreds of poor souls are being forced to work at gunpoint in a sweatshop-cum-prison camp.

Gina Jin Chen as online croupier Anna in a still from “No More Bets”.
Soon after arriving, Pan meets Anna (Gina Jin Chen), a former model who now works at the farm as an online croupier after her career collapsed when her likeness was used illegally.

Now she lures in hapless gambling addicts like Tian (Darren Wang Da-lu), whose unquenchable habit is steadily ruining the lives of those around him.

No More Bets has been a monster hit in mainland China, where it has taken a staggering 3.7 billion yuan (US$507 million) since opening last month – but popularity has never been an accurate measure of quality.

When a scene in which a house cat is ruthlessly murdered triggers a ripple of derisive laughter in the audience, it might be some indication that the film has failed to find its intended tone.

Darren Wang Da-lu in a still from “No More Bets”.

There is no denying this subject matter is deeply concerning. Online scamming has become an unavoidable epidemic, while smartphones have made us all vulnerable to both attack and temptation.

No More Bets, however, takes an idiotic approach to addressing the problem, propelled by histrionic scaremongering and xenophobia before leaning into some unintentionally hilarious championing of the Chinese police force.

The closing credits alone reveal the extent of the earnest and thorough research conducted by the filmmakers, as dozens of real victims recount their ordeals.

Perhaps a documentary investigating their stories might have yielded more authentic results, although one suspects it would not have been nearly as financially rewarding.

Lay Zhang Yixing as Pan, kidnapped and made to work in a cyber farm, in a still from “No More Bets”.

The film’s messages ring loud and clear: do not gamble! Do not trust anyone you meet online! Do not believe promises of high-paying overseas employment! Do not go abroad! Do not answer the phone! But if this writer may add to that list … do not watch this movie!

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