The film portrays the lives, struggles and adventures of three friends who are addicted to gambling. They place a joint 4D bet; when they win, one is tempted to keep all the winnings to himself. This satirical comedy touches on gambling addiction and the consequences of one's actions.
The success of the film spawned a television series of the same name which aired on MediaCorp Channel 8 on April 2005 and ran for 14 episodes. Four of the five lead actors except Joanne Peh continued to star in the television series. Several other new actors were added to the leading cast including Dai Qianyun as Mark Lee's idolizer, and Cheryl Chin as Mark Lee and Christopher Lee's love interest.
In 1996, director Jack Neo became a gambling addict and spent over S$1,200 a month on 4D bets. Frustrated with losing money and feeling dependent on the gambling, he successfully kicked the habit in 1999 with the support of his wife. As the release of the film coincided with an ongoing debate on whether to set up a casino in Singapore, Jack Neo commented that "we should warn people about the ills of gambling, because it is always a cycle."
When writing the script, Jack Neo decided to change his style, reducing the amount of comedy in the film, and adding more drama. However, after negative feedback from focus groups and concerns from the Board of Film Censors that The Best Bet promoted illegal gambling and the speaking of dialects, he reversed his decision.
The Best Bet was produced by Raintree Pictures on a budget of S$1.5 million. Besides writing and directing, Jack Neo composed the songs, together with Mark Lee, who sang them. The production crew included Daniel Yun as executive producer, Titus Ho and Chan Pui Yin as producers, Michael Chua as cinematographer and Mo Ju Li as music and sound director.
Filming started on 4 March 2004 and finished on 28 April. On the first day of filming, Jack Neo, Daniel Yun and the lead actors participated in a prayer ceremony at the hawker centre in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10. As 59 people had placed winning bets at nearby 4D outlets, Jack Neo commented that "this place is very wang (lucky) and this matches my movie."
The movie focuses on the three main characters — Tan Chun Huang (Mark Lee), an illegal bookie and "super gambler" who leaves the running of his family's bak kut teh stall to his younger sister, Hui Min (Joanne Peh); Lee Yong Shun (Christopher Lee), an ambitious but unlucky man who abhors gambling; and Richard (Richard Low), a white-collar executive who is indecisive and easily influenced, but does not listen to his wife's (Chen Liping) pleas not to gamble.
Huang is first introduced into the movie, with two of his fellow bookie friends drinking at a coffeeshop. He then shares his thoughts about the gambling issues in Singapore, in which his sister then enters trying to lecture him, which he refuses to heed her advice. Shun and Richard are then introduced in a phone call Huang makes to Richard, where it is shown Shun goes beyond the speed limit and is caught. They later rush to work, late for a meeting. The latter in which results in a disgraced Richard unwanted of his proposal and Shun fired from his job.
While clearing his desk, Shun, together with Richard are approached by their colleagues. A woman named Coffee-Lady wishes to ask for digits, which exasperates Shun who tries to tell her about her addiction. While Shun leaves, the colleagues and Richard talk about benefactors as a way to pick numbers, which ridicules the way how even the worse people can be a benefactor to one. The discussion goes on later back in the coffeeshop with the three friends just as they offer prayings.
Before Shun meets back with his friends, he is caught beating a red light, and throws a rock at the red light camera. Unknown to him, a van also beats the red light and catches him attempting to destroy the camera.
The three friends return to the stall, with Hui Min wishing to lend an encyclopaedia to her brother which enrages him, making her think that it will ruin his luck to win in his gambles. A fake monk shows up near the bak kut teh stall and recommends the 4D number 3791, but Huang, who is skeptical of fake monks, refuses to buy the number, especially after the feud with his sister. A fellow stallholder (Tony Koh Beng Hoe) buys the number just then. When the number comes out, Huang lashes out at Hui Min, blaming her that the number came out and he she had supposedly ruined his luck.
Shun has trouble paying the instalments for his condominium, and his girlfriend Evita compounds his financial woes by demanding he buy her expensive gifts. Huang suggests Shun rent out a room in the condominium to two of Huang's friends, who moved from China to Singapore. Although this causes a furious Evita to dump Shun, he is touched by the gesture, and suggests Huang and Richard start a business with him. They welcome the idea, and take a bank loan to fund the business.
Things go well with the business as they prepare everything for a stall and even a grand opening ceremony. Everything goes fine at the opening ceremony until the official opening where the trio cut the red ribbon.
Unfortunately, at the opening ceremony of their business, Shun is arrested and sentenced to jail for breaking the red light camera and housing Huang's friends, who turn out to be illegal immigrants. Consequently, the hired lion dance troupe had illegal immigrants as well, which causes a big scuffle. A fight with the police and a fellow lion dance troupe artiste results in the shop blown. The situation results in the business goes bankrupt, landing Huang, Shun and Richard heavily in debt. Worst, Richard's company goes bust, and he witnesses a neighbour's home, once rich from a first place strike in lottery now vandalised by loan sharks. Richard now worries of the bank doing the same.
Richard and Huang visit a remote Chinese Fortune God shrine in the wilderness, which Huang manages to ask for good numbers, turning out to be the numbers 7272. Somehow, others also get the number.
Thus, Huang and Richard try to clear their debts by borrowing from a loan shark, but the police ambush them at the coffeeshop. While Huang hides in a public toilet, he refuses to comply with a policeman and beats him up, but he is later succumbed to. Huang is arrested and sentenced to jail for illegal bookmaking and causing hurt to a public servant, but he was temporarily bailed out to settle family matters. Richard is now left alone.
Coincidentally, Huang, Shun and the fake monk are incarcerated in the same cell. The fake monk recommends the number 7272, exactly the same number Huang had received in the wilderness. As the fake monk had previously recommended the number 3791, which came out, Huang and Shun are determined to buy the number. After a discussion with Richard, who also wishes to buy the number, they agree that Richard will place a joint bet, paying S$100 for each person.
When the number comes out, Richard's wife tempts him to keep all the winnings, because Huang and Shun had not paid for their bets. That night, Richard and his wife dreamt that they kept all the winnings to themselves, but had difficulty keeping the money safely and preventing others from knowing that they had won 4D, and that Huang and Shun took revenge on them after coming out of prison. Eventually, they decide not to keep the winnings to themselves. They decide to invest their winnings in a bak kut teh business based on an innovative business model by Huang after his release, which prospers.
The trio handle their business well, setting up many branches island-wide. Shun makes up with Hui Min, and everyone becomes happy.
The characters of the movie were played by the following actors and actresses:
The Best Bet earned S$170,000 during its sneak preview, and over S$2.5 million during its cinematic release, breaking the record for the largest opening day gross for a local film in the process.
The film screened at the Asian Film Festival and received a nomination for Best Original Film Song at the Golden Horse Awards 2004, but lost to Splendid Float.