The Killing of a Chinese Bookie  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a 1976 American crime film directed and written by John Cassavetes and starring Ben Gazzara.


The film, set in California, opens with Cosmo Vittelli (Ben Gazzara) making the final payment on a longstanding gambling debt to a sleazy loanshark (played by the film's producer Al Ruban). It turns out that the person who Vittelli had just repaid his debt to is associated with the mob and sets up Vittelli by bringing larger fish gangsters to Vittelli's artistic club. Vittelli and Mort (Seymour Cassel) share talk and conversation about the club ownership business, Vittelli orders Mort and his party bottles of Dom Perignon. Mort then sets Vittelli up by offering an open invitation to gamble at the mobster's club, all expenses paid, other than the gambling gains or losses. To celebrate his long-anticipated freedom, cabaret owner Vittelli has an expensive night out with his three favorite dancers ("Margo", "Rachael" and "Sherry"). The evening culminates in a poker game in which Vittelli loses $23,000 (2016, $97,500 equivalent) returning him to the debtor's position he had just left. Using the debt as leverage, his mob creditors coerce him into agreeing to perform a "hit" on a rival. Vittelli is led to believe that his target is a small-time criminal of minor consequence, the Chinese bookie of the film's title; but in fact, he is the boss of the Chinese mafia, "the heaviest cat on the West Coast." Vittelli manages to kill the man and several of his bodyguards, but is severely wounded before escaping.

In addition to the potentially fatal gunshot wound he sustains, Vittelli comes to realize that his assignment was a set-up: that his mob employers double-crossed him and had no expectation he would survive his debut as a hitman. Vittelli loses his "black" and "beautiful" girlfriend, Rachel (Azizi Johari) and the support of her loving mother due to the chaos and the gunshot wound he refuses to acknowledge. It also becomes evident that due to Vittelli's direct combat experience in Korea and his snap execution of the West Coast Chinese gangster leader and his bodyguards, that, in fact, his Italian gangster foes are "amateurs" in comparison to him. Vittelli fatally shoots Mort but Mort's mob companion is left in a warehouse firing off rounds into warehouse walls, hunting for Vittelli. Forced into a corner again, Vittelli manages to kill or elude his assailants, but the film ends with no indication of whether Vittelli will survive his ordeal, as the show at his club goes on. Vittelli (with a bullet in his side) informs his artists that Rachel has left the production team and has the "flu" or has moved on to "bigger and better things", never accounting for the lost love potential between Vittelli, Rachel and her mother who said she loved Vittelli but wanted him out of her house until he sought medical attention to remove the bullet.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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