Shun (Stephen Chow Sing-Chi) is a luckless con artist whose outrageous scams never seem to go his way. Having failed to stop his girlfriend marrying another man, Shun poses as a blind guy to run a con on hapless motorist Betsy (Teresa Mo) only to catch her trying to pick his pocket! A repentant Betsy tries to sell Shun a sob story about owing money to the triads that turns out to be true when mob enforcer Wah (Yuen Wah) hauls both of them to his boss. White-suited corporate crook Tai Te (Roy Cheung) gives them seven days to pay him off or else meet a violent end. In desperation, Shun and Betsy embark on a series of failed scams to sneak inside rich folks homes so they can make off with any valuable antiques. They break into a fabulous mansion not realising it is part of scam run by rival con team Fa (Wu Ma) and Ping (Tien Nu) whom Tai Te has hired to hustle a wealthy rival from overseas. Mistaking Shun for their target, Fa invites him to stay and enlists the aid of voluptuous sex bomb Apple (Amy Yip) to entrap him in a sex scam. All the while unaware that Shun is conning him.
The Magnificent Scoundrels brought together two very different Hong Kong film stars who had a meteoric rise in the early Nineties: rubber-faced comedian Stephen Chow Sing-Chi and silicone-enhanced soft-core starlet Amy Yip, doyenne of the Category III sexploitation genre. Both became iconic figures of Hong Kong cinema although only Chow had an enduring career. After early notoriety in bawdy romps Sex & Zen (1991), Robotrix (1991) and Erotic Ghost Story (1991), Yip's attempt to branch out into serious drama with Queen of Underworld (1991), a true crime biopic about an infamous female mob boss, met with little success. Supporting roles in more popular crime films To Be Number One (1991) and Requital (1992) earned Yip some favourable notices but she segued into a run of unremarkable sexploitation vehicles before retiring from movies to marry a wealthy businessman in 1994. Although cast to type here as a busty sexpot who loses her clothes literally the second she appears onscreen, Yip throws herself good-naturedly into a string of gross-out gags (e.g. sharing a drunken kiss with Chow only to vomit in his mouth!) and proves pretty darn good at comedy. Inevitably, a great many gags centre on Amy's undeniably impressive décolletage while legions of greasy palmed fans will no doubt savour her many skimpy outfits including a pink two-piece that must be seen to be believed.
The film was jointly produced by Magnum Films and innovative studio Cinema City, production companies owned respectively by actor-producer Danny Lee, star of City on Fire (1987) and The Killer (1989), who was instrumental in launching Stephen Chow's career after co-starring with him in cop thriller Final Justice (1988), and comedian Karl Maka - one of the biggest stars and most important filmmakers of the 1980s - who appears in his final acting role, symbolically handing the baton to a younger generation of comic talent. Right from the hilarious opening scene with Shen posing as an illegal immigrant who has supposedly swam all the way from mainland China, the film maintains a breakneck pace throwing inventive slapstick gags (e.g. the epic chase where Shen endures all kind of hardship only to disrupt the wrong wedding and get beaten up by the bride, or his all-in-one-take race to get undressed so he can jump in the pool with sexy Apple) to counterbalance the verbal fireworks of Chow's Cantonese quips. It is not quite as hyper-manic nor visually audacious as later efforts from the team of Chow and co-writer-director Lee Lik Chi and lacks the surreal cartoon sensibility that made Love On Delivery (1994) and From Beijing with Love (1994) so distinctive. However, the central theme that the only way to survive amidst the frantic, dog eat dog environment of Hong Kong is to be a sneaky bastard, would likely resonate with the local audience.
Everyone here is on the make, trying to outwit and out-scam each other even though more often than not, the cons go spectacularly awry. Notably Shen and Betsy's attempt to infiltrate one home posing as gas repair men where they somehow end up believing each is responsible for murdering the occupant and fight to shop each other to the cops. Despite a mid-section lapse into predictable bedroom farce the film remains energetic and amusing with the inevitable team-up between both con groups to take down the odious villain highly satisfying. Although ostensibly a Steven Chow vehicle, The Magnificent Scoundrels ends up more of an ensemble piece giving equal space for veteran Wu Ma, former Shaw Brothers starlet Tien Nu, the aforementioned Amy Yip and especially Teresa Mo to shine. Best known for a supporting role in John Woo's seminal action opus Hard Boiled (1992), Teresa Mo remains to this day one of Hong Kong's most gifted comediennes. She is more than a match for Chow throughout several semi-improvised comic routines. Notably where she poses as an old lady, a policeman and a dog to convince the seemingly blind Shen they have been in a car crash.