From Hong Kong to Montenegro: globetrotting casino classics

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Movies about gambling and the casino world at large generate thrill, excitement, and drama simply because there’s too much at risk. While Ocean’s Eleven, Rounders and Casino are some of the most popular American productions, the topic of casino heists and high-stakes games has been explored in numerous films from all over the world.

Let’s take a look at five of the most exciting international casino movies you should check out.

Tricheurs (1984)

Few cinephiles will have heard of this underrated gem of French cinema. By Academy Award winner director Barbet Shroeder, Tricheurs follows two gamblers, Elric (Jacques Dutronc) and Suzie (Bulle Ogier) who fall for each other. When Elric is enlisted by conman Jorg (Kurt Raab) into a cheating scheme, the lives of the pair are radically altered and set on a dark, spiraling path. While Tricheurs‘ writing and directing aren’t particularly stellar, the film is remarkable in its sensitive and realistic portrayal of addiction. Another highlight is Dutronc’s compelling performance as Elric.

Casino Raiders (1989)

Between 1989 and 1996, the genre of gambling-themed films dominated Hong Kong cinema, resulting in action-packed thrillers whose climax typically consisted of a high-stakes poker game. One of them is Casino Raiders, written and directed by Jimmy Heung and Wong Jing. Friends and gamblers Crab (Andy Lau) and Sam Law (Alan Tam) are forced into a battle with the Yakuza that will interfere with their lives and friendship. With a solid story that gradually darkens and strong performances by Lau and Tam, Casino Raiders delivers an entertaining spectacle. The film was followed by two sequels: No Risk, No Gain (1990) and Casino Raiders II (1991).

Croupier (1998)

If there’s a film that offers a realistic representation of the casino world, that is the British neo-noir, Croupier. In his breakthrough role, Clive Owen plays Jack, an aspiring writer who begins working as a croupier at the local casino to make ends meet, hoping to take inspiration from the experience. While he initially limits himself to the role of an observer, he soon becomes engrossed in this environment, leading to several complications. Directed by Mike Hodges, Croupier is a slick meditation on human desires and the concept of life as a game of chance.

Casino Royale (2006)

The most mainstream film on the list, Casino Royale (2006) is the third adaptation of the eponymous novel by Ian Fleming and the debut of Daniel Craig as the famous 007 agent. In it, James Bond faces criminal mastermind Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. The film is lauded as one of the best in the Bond franchise due to its smart and gripping plot and stellar performances by the cast, including Craig, Mikkelsen, and Eva Green as Vesper, 007’s love interest.

The Pelayos (2012)

This Spanish production is inspired by the true story of the Pelayos, a family that made their fortune by playing and winning big at numerous casinos around the world. Starring Daniel Brühl, Lluís Homar, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, and Blanca Suárez, The Pelayos follows the adventures of a group of people seeking to change their luck through an unconventional way of life. With echoes of the more popular Ocean’s 11, the film is a witty and fast-paced affair, which makes for a fun 100-minute watch. As Iván, Daniel Brühl exudes charisma and magnetism, being one of The Pelayos’ highlights.

From Vegas to Macau (2014)

Directed by the same talent behind Casino Raiders, Wong Jing, this crime-comedy is a throwback to Hong Kong’s cinema gambling sub-genre. There are familiar elements such as the gamblers who must face off against high-profile criminals. Starring Chow Yun-fat, Nicholas Tse, and Jing Tian, From Vegas to Macau is an over-the-top spectacle with an engaging, yet somewhat generic plot.

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