September 5, 2023
by Carla Hay
“No More Bets” (2023)
Directed by Shen Ao
Mandarin with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018, mostly in Singapore, the dramatic film “No More Bets” has a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A computer programmer from China is recruited to work for an online gambling company in Singapore and finds out that he’s part of an elaborate fraud that intentionally gets people hooked on gambling.
Culture Audience: “No More Bets” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies about the dark side of online gambling.
“No More Bets” has more than enough drama and suspense in this vigorous condemnation of gambling scammers who ruin people’s lives in predatory ways. The movie does not exaggerate gambling addiction but does exaggerate some of the police scenarios. It’s a movie that will make people think twice about placing bets online.
Directed by Shen Ao (who co-wrote the “No More Bets” screenplay with Zhang Yifan and Xu Luyang), “No More Bets” takes place in 2018, but the movie’s messages could apply to any era where online gambling exists. “No More Bets” begins in China, where computer programming Pan Sheng (played by Lay Zhang) has been working at an online education company for the past six years. Sheng is 29 and will soon turn 30. He is passed over for a promotion, he decides he’s going to quit his job.
Around the same time, Sheng gets a job offer from an online gaming company in Singapore called Firefly. He eagerly accepts the offer and finds himself on a plane with other new Firefly recruits, who are all young men. When they all arrive in Singapore, some of the recruits (including Sheng) are beaten up by thugs on the street. It’s a setup for these men to be kidnapped and sent to the real job they’ve been recruited for: working for a fraudulent online gambling company
The recruits’ passports have been confiscated and they are forced to work in a call center type of environment. They are tasked with coming up with computer software that will rig the gambling results in the Firefly’s favor. First, the unsuspecting victims are lured in by winning big on their first few bets using a game called SINGBET. They then get fooled into thinking they could win more money, but they end up on a losing streak that is rigged by the company. Firefly’s goal is to drain people’s bank accounts, and the leaders of this scam don’t care if they ruin people’s lives.
In addition to the computer programmers (who are all men), there are young women who have been kidnapped and forced to work for Firefly. The women are chosen for their good looks, so that the can appear on camera as gambling “hosts” to lure in the mostly male customers who end up getting hooked on using SINGBET. One of these women is Liang Anna (played by Gina Jin), a model who was lured to Firefly in a similar way to how Sheng was lured.
Anna and Sheng end up becoming emotionally involved with each other and try to figure out a way to escape. It’s difficult because all of the Firefly recruits are treated like prisoners and are constantly being watched by guards. Some of the most suspenseful moments in te movie are abot Anna and Sheng and their attempts to flee from this hellish environment.
Lu Bingkun (played by Eric Wang) is the manager of this scam company. He is ruthless and doesn’t have a conscience. He’s also a sexual predator who forces some of the female employees to perform sexual acts on him. But as far as his wife knows, he’s a loving husband and father who works in an honest job. Bingkun has a second-in-command at Firefly named An Juncai (played by Sunny Sun), who is as sleazy as Bingkun.
Meanwhile, the movie has a parallel storyline of one of Firefly’s victims: Gu Tianzhi (played by Darren Wang), a grad student who is close to graduating. Gu and his girlfriend of four years, Song Yu (played by Zhou Ye) go to the same school and live together. Yu and Tianzhi have to find a new place off-campus since they’re close to graduating.
But things take a very tumultuous turn in their relationship when Tianzhi becomes a gambling addict. He goes to extremes to fund his addiction, and things get worse. What happens is heartbreaking but also realistic to how gambling addiction can take over lives the addicts and the people who are close to them.
And where is law enforcement? There’s a police officer named Yong Mei as Zhao Dongran who is heading the investigation into Firefly. Several people have had their lives ruined by Firefly and have filed complaints against the company.
The movie shows how company brainwashing works, as several of the recruits become loyal to Firefly when they start getting large cash bonuses, which are based on who can scam the most money out of people. “No More Bets” has some melodrama that looks contrived for a movie (especially toward the end), but the movie has an effective message about how getting money through illegal means or gambling addiction isn’t worth it when the cost to someone’s humanity and dignity are even bigger.
Super Lion released “No More Bets” in select U.S. cinemas on September 1, 2023. The movie was released in China on August 8, 2023.