Eleventh Report | Fantasia 2015

tazza 75Despite its length, Tazza: The Hidden Card is mostly fast-paced and enjoyable to watch.

 

 

 

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If you like your action films fast, slick, and full of good-looking people (and I certainly do), Tazza: The Hidden Card should be right in your wheelhouse. It’s a Korean gambling film directed by Kang Kyoung-chul, and is the successor to a popular 2006 film, Tazza: The High Rollers, as well as being based in part on a graphic novel series by Kim Se-yeong and Huh Young-man. The central character, Han Dae-Gil (played by the K-pop star Choi Seung-hyun), shows his talent for hustling from an early age, and aspires to be the biggest card sharp in Korea. He’s a bright boy, to be sure, and brimming with self-confidence and good looks, but fails to appreciate that gambling is a serious business. There are lots of people just as smart as he is, but with a lot more experience, who aren’t inclined to just hand over their livelihood to the latest young phenom from the provinces.

Dae-Gil finds a spot at an illegal gambling operation run by Chief Seo (Oh Jung-Se), where the business of the day is to separate suckers from their money. Despite having feelings for hometown girl Mina (Shin Sae-kyeong), Dae-Gil gets seduced by a glamorous woman gambler, Ms. Woo (Honey Lee), only to learn that she was hustling him as part of a scam aimed at separating his boss from a large amount of cash. Disgraced and defeated, with his person in danger, Dae-Gil flees and seeks guidance from an older and wiser gambler (Yoo Hai-Jin), who helps him get back into the game.

Tazza: The Hidden Card is pretty much one scam after another, with many reversals of fortune among the main players. There seems to be only a few major methods of cheating, from palming cards to marking decks to using video surveillance systems, and since everyone seems to know the same tricks, no one can stay on top for long. Even following the advice of Dae-Gil’s mentor to “read the player, not the cards” goes only so far, because everyone knows that one as well. The film’s tone is somewhere between Ocean’s Eleven and the Sean Connery James Bond films, emphasizing the glamorous lifestyles of those at the top of the gambling world with only passing attention paid to the more serious consequences for those who lose big (from having body parts hacked off to being sold into prostitution). Unlike Ocean’s Eleven, however, there is not a single caper but a whole series of them, and unlike the Bond films, there is nothing of geopolitical significance at stake.

The card game (hwatu) played in Tazza: The Hidden Card will not be familiar to most Americans, and neither will the cards themselves (they’re about half the size of a business card, with completely different markings and values from the standard 52-card decks used in the U.S.). Even if you don’t know the game, you can still enjoy the film, however, since someone is always conveniently announcing the value of the different hands and making it clear who is winning and why. However, someone familiar with the cards and the game might get even more out of this film.

My main criticism of Tazza: The Hidden Card is that it goes on for too long (almost 2 and a half hours) and seems ready to end several times before it finally gets there. Even the end is not really the end, but only a setup for another sequel. Given that, the director might have cut a few subplots or complications and saved them for the next time around. However, this is a minor quibble, and despite the length, Tazza is mostly a fast-paced and enjoyable watch, attractively shot by Tae-kyung Kim and crisply edited by Na-young Nam. | Sarah Boslaugh

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