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Killing of a Chinese Bookie (The Criterion Collection) (1976)

Ben Gazzara , Seymour Cassel , John Cassavetes  |  Unrated |  DVD
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Ben Gazzara, Seymour Cassel
  • Directors: John Cassavetes
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, HiFi Sound, NTSC, Special Edition, Surround Sound, THX, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • DVD Release Date: November 4, 2008
  • Run Time: 108 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0012YICBC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #65,962 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features

  • Video interviews with star Ben Gazzara and producer Al Ruban
  • Audio interview with Cassavetes by film historians Michel Ciment and Michael Wilson, conducted after the film’s release
  • Stills gallery featuring rare behind-the-scenes production photos
  • A booklet featuring an essay by Phillip Lopate

Editorial Reviews


Things we have never
seen on screen before. --David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor

Visually stunning, stylistically extravagant. --Newsweek

Product Description

John Cassavetes engages film noir in his own inimitable style with The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Ben Gazzara brilliantly portrays gentlemen s club owner Cosmo Vitelli, a man dedicated to pretenses of composure and self-possession. When he runs afoul of a group of gangsters, Cosmo is forced to commit a horrible crime in a last-ditch effort to save his beloved club and his way of life. Suspenseful, mesmerizing, and idiosyncratic, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a thought-provoking examination of desperation and masculine identity. Available for the first time as a stand-alone release, from the box set John Cassavetes: Five Films.

Restored high-definition digital transfer of John Cassavetes original 1976, 135-minute edit of the film
Restored high-definition digital transfer of Cassavetes 108-minute edit from the 1978 theatrical rerelease
Video interviews with star Ben Gazzara and producer Al Ruban
Audio interview with Cassavetes by film historians Michel Ciment and Michael Wilson, conducted after the film s release
Stills gallery featuring rare, behind-the-scenes production photos
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by Phillip Lopate and interviews with Cassavetes

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review for 1976-Theatrical & 1978-Director's Cut April 17, 2009
Verified Purchase
God bless the Criterion Collection and their decision to release The Killing of a Chinese Bookie as a two-disc set, featuring the original 1976-theatrical version and 1978-director's cut. Director John Cassavetes considered the film a failure and had it removed from theatrical distribution seven days after its release. The 1978-cut of the film is nearly 30 minutes shorter in length and is truly a "director's cut." This is not some money making scheme; Cassavetes constructed an entirely different film, using scenes not present in the theatrical version and removing entire sequences that were. This review is for both versions.

Ben Gazzara plays Cosmo Vittelli, owner of Crazy Horse West, a strip joint.

This much the two versions agree on. In the theatrical version, Cosmo meets Mort (Seymour Cassel) at his club. Mort tells Cosmo about a gambling joint and invites him to check it out. Cosmo does and ends up with a $23,000 debt. In the director's cut, Cosmo doesn't meet Mort at Crazy Horse West. Instead, he simply goes to a gambling joint and loses $23,000. Cassavetes establishes who has control over the gambling joint with a scene where some gangsters confront an urologist who has accumulated a $5,000 debt.

In both versions, the men from the gambling joint arrive at Crazy Horse West and tell Cosmo about a Chinese bookie, along with an offer that will help him significantly reduce his debt. Cosmo doesn't like the idea and, at first, refuses. The gangsters insist he reconsider and give him a gun, a car, and no wiggle room.

This synopsis could indicate a thriller, a character study, a thrilling character study...Something of this nature.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great September 19, 2008
John Cassavetes' The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie is a film that is one of those overlooked gems that is not only a great film, but a great record of its time, even if it might have more properly been titled The Murder Of A Chinese Bookie. As much as I love the early, raw films of Martin Scorsese- who reputedly thought up this tale with Cassavetes a few years earlier, no film I've ever seen so perfectly captures the mid-1970s Underworld as I knew it as a child. There is a sense that on can even smell the cheap liquor and cigaret smoke that pervades its images. While Scorsese's Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas are also great films, they are so highly stylized, scored, and choreographed that they attain mythic qualities, and are shorn of much of the realism Cassavetes' filmic world inhabits. What set Cassavetes apart from his contemporary American peers was that his films did not mythologize- they simply depicted. In this sense, he did for modern urbanity what German filmmaker Werner Herzog does for historical films- i.e.- brings them down to `eye level realism'. He also depicted his society with the same level of universal realism as Yasujiro Ozu did Post-War Japan.
In watching the two versions of this film, made available as part of The Criterion Collection's five disk John Cassavetes Five Films collection- the original 135 minute 1976 release, and the 109 minute 1978 re-release, one also gets a good representation of how greatness can be achieved.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Flaws" Don't Make it Flawed November 29, 2009
Other commentators have favored the shorter "director's cut." I've only watched the longer, original version so cannot comment on how tightening it up through editing and removing the "boring" parts leads to an overall better product. With that disclaimer, it's my opinion not only that the original movie is a masterpiece but the so-called "flaws" are part of what makes it so good. Great art, as per the producer in the commentary on Disc 2, require an investment in time and attention on the part of the viewer. Less passivity. Among other things, this movie is a reflection on decrepitude, of life, dreams and even on a more visceral level, the American landscape. Set in L.A. in the mid-1970s, as the U.S. economy was falling apart (sound familiar?). L.A., America's dream factory and paradise, where in most films everything is beautiful, everything here, interior and exterior spaces, is dismal. Even the car used to get to the crime scene, which is rusty, breaks down. The filler that stretches on and on between action and plot development sequences -- silences, pointless dialogue, horrible cabaret scenes -- reflect what we see in the characters. The pace and look are lifelike, not a movielike. The empty spaces are not overly stylized (such as the "dull" moments in an Antonioni movie), although either approach is valid in the hands of a brilliant director. The way it's filmed, you can practically smell what's going on in the scenes.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Opium was the Religion of the People." February 27, 2010
According to interviews with Ben Gazzara and Al Ruban, and a contemporary audio interview with Cassavetes himself, audiences hated this film on its initial release. They hated it so badly that as they left the theater, they shouted to the people standing in line that it was the worst movie they'd ever seen - that those waiting to see it should save their money. It's probably best to keep that in mind when one reads recommendations for this film, including mine.

Another thing to remember, and which was also mentioned in the interviews, is that although 'Killing of a Chinese Bookie' bears all the trappings of a traditional gangster film, Cassavetes intended to tell a more personal story, and the genre setting was simply a means to an end. People from those audiences of thirty years ago who were expecting another movie in line with 'The Godfather' may have had some marginal interest in the first two-thirds of the film, but could very well have found the final half hour excruciating. Lastly, after the terrible shellacking this movie took at its opening, Cassavetes cut the film from its original 135 minutes to 108 and re-released it two years later.

So, depending on what type of film you expect to see, and which version, 'The Killing of a Chinese Bookie' has hurdles to overcome even before you get to Cassavetes idiosyncratic thematic structure.
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