Monday, February 6, 2012

Action Cards: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Action Cards is a recurring column here at Three Rivers Poker where I pick a film that features poker in some capacity and then specifically review the poker scenes contained therein. I occasionally tackle an honest-to-god poker movie but find it's more fun (for me and you) to discuss movies that only tangentially feature the game. On today's menu, everyone's favorite archeologist ... 

THE MOVIE: Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984)

THE PLOT: A few years before finding the Ark of the Covenant, archeologist, professor and all-around-badass Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) accidentally ends up in India, where he stumbles across the possible location of one of the fabled Sankara Stones. Always on the lookout for "fortune and glory," he heads to Pankot Palace to retrieve the artifact. Shit gets out of hand. Hearts are ripped out of living bodies. Etc., etc.

HOW MUCH POKER IS INVOLVED?: Very little, but after writing nearly 3,000 words on Casino Royale, I wanted to go small this time. Interestingly, the scene where the game takes place doesn't actually feature poker in any of the script drafts that are available on the Internet. The poker bit must have been added quite late in production.

BREAKING DOWN THE ACTION: Temple of Doom's one tiny poker scene occurs while Indy, his prepubescent sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) and American nightclub singer Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) decide to make camp while on their way to Pankot Palace. Well, there's no TV in the jungles of India, so Indy and Short Round break out a deck for a game of what appears to be three-card draw. Unanswered questions: Whose deck was it? And how in the hell did it survive the trio's escape from Lao Che's doomed airplane?

The movie picks the game up near the end of a hand, where Short Round is asking Indy what he has. (So annoying. Just show your cards!) Indy announces he has two sixes -- not "a pair of sixes" but "two sixes," language that forces me to believe that he's more of a casual player. Shorty's face lights up.

"Ah-ha-ha! Three aces!" he laughs, showing his hand. "Two more games, I have all your money!" Short Round is obviously a lousy winner. Also, three aces is a monster in three-card draw. Did Shorty really think he might lose that hand?

The game the two are playing doesn't seem to feature rounds of betting. Instead, each hand is played for set stakes, in this case 10 cents. When run through an inflation calculator, that comes to $1.64 in today's money. It's extremely low stakes, but, hell, Short Round is just some poor Chinese kid whose parents were killed when the Japanese bombed Shanghai, so it's probably big bucks to him.

Anyway, we pick up the next hand with Short Round catching Indy cheating. (Jones drew four cards to replace the three he discarded and then tried to casually hide one of them. What a dick! Who tries to cheat a nine-year-old kid?!) Indy hilariously claims he's innocent, that two of the cards were stuck together. Short Round isn't having any of it.

"I am very little; you cheat very big!" he says in one of my all-time most-quoted movie lines. Unfortunately for Short Round, he's gesturing so wildly during his accusatory rant that Indy notices the ace of diamonds tucked into Shorty's sleeve. That's where things go nuclear. You know it's bad when both players in a heads-up game start yelling at each other in Chinese.

Tempers eventually calm when Indy has to deal with the insufferable Willie, who has been bumbling around the camp running into lizards and bats and things the whole time. All smiles, Shorty sneaks away with what is clearly a considerable haul of coins and starts counting his winnings. A few moments later, all is well. Indy even kicks Short Round another coin when Shorty sharply informs Willie that she should be addressing their leader by his professional name -- Doctor Jones.

Something tells me that when Indy and Short Round return from India, they'll be back to cheating the pants off each other. Or maybe they'll team up and run a nifty poker con on Marcus Brody. You know he'd fall for it.


The problem with assigning a grade here is that so much about Indy and Short Round's game remains vague. Draw poker was invented in the 19th century but was still popular in the 1930s, when Temple of Doom is set. However, the game usually features rounds of betting, so the fact that they're playing for a fixed amount per hand is weird. There is a variation of stud poker called "cold hands" that uses set stakes with no betting. Best I can tell, Indy and Short Round's game is a combination of the two. Then there's the cheating, which really is of the unbelievably egregious variety. Plus, Short Round's doubts about the power of his trip aces seems inauthentic.

WOULD I WANT TO PLAY IN THIS GAME?: On first thought, hanging out in the jungles of India and playing cards with these two does sound kind of awesome. And the stakes are low enough that the game would be stress-free. However, you'd still have to deal with all the cheating, shitty sleeping arrangements, the stink of the elephants everyone's using for transportation, and listening to Willie scream every time she saw a bug. Ultimately, it wouldn't be worth the hassle.

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