Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Dong-hun Choi, director
139 minutes

Tazza*, released with the subtitle "The High Rollers" here in the U.S., is the story of Goni's quest for redemption after he looses his savings and his sister's divorce settlement, which he stole, in a rigged game of hwa-tu. At the beginning of his journey through the gambling underworld of South Korea, Goni is a wet-behind-the-ears kid with no real sense of how things work. He has some raw talent for the game but in reality he is just another mark, however he eventually comes to the attention of Mr. Pyeong, one of the three Tazzas or master card players, and through an irritating display of determination he convinces Mr. Pyeong to teach him the intricacies of the game. Through Mr. Pyeong, Goni eventually becomes quite masterful and meets Madam Jung, a fellow gambler.

Somehow this movie manages to overcome a preponderance of cliched moments and characters and be extremely enjoyable, even to those of us who have NO idea what is going on in the card game being played. As befits a movie about slick underworld types who live by their wits and make more money than they know what to do with, Tazza is a very stylish production, from the wardrobe to the locations to the soundtrack everything just felt right for what is, in the end, an updated take on many film noir tropes. Goni is the morally compromised yet still moral main character, wonderfully played by Cho Seung-woo (and here) and Madam Jung, played by my latest K-crush Hye-su Kim (and here), is the femme fatale. (Like she could be anything else with a name like Madam Jung!)

Now I have not touched on hwatu, the card game which is central to the plot. This is more from the fact that I do not understand the game, even after having tried a couple of hands of it somewhere online. If you are more interested in the game you can check out the Wikipedia article here or a couple or sources, here and here, I nicked from Mark Russell over at Korea Pop Wars. Despite an abysmal lack of knowledge about the game I was still able to enjoy the movie. This is not to say that there are things I did not miss, however you do not have to be conversant with hwatu in order to enjoy the film.

If you are a fan of the gambler movie then I cannot recommend this one enough. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and suspect I will be purchasing it some time in the near future.

As a bonus I would like to direct your attention to YouTube user cherrygirl1029, who has posted the entire movie in fourteen parts on YouTube. Sadly this version is not subtitled AND is not in Korean (I believe it is a Japanese dub) so you kids will have to figure out what is being said and contend with the lips not synching up with the audio track, however here is the first part:

* I have also seen this romanized as Tajja.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

YouTubesday: DCI

In last week's exceptionally brief YouTubesday post I shared a 1988 performance from the Madison Scouts and promised to share more about DCI in a later post. Well guess what the theme of this week's YouTubesday post is going to be? That's right, more bloviating from me interrupted by whatever DCI videos I could scrounge from YouTube.

Lets begin with a better description of what DCI, or Drum Corps International, actually is. My short-hand answer for this question is that it is professional-level marching band and recently DCI stole my idea and began billing themselves as "Marching Music's Major League." While this definition is enough to get by on, it is not entirely accurate. There are some major differences between marching band and drum and bugle corps. The first one most people notice is that in a drum a bugle corps there are no woodwinds, however the restrictions are much more stringent that just removing the woodwinds. The brass horns must be bell-front and until recently pitched in the key of G. The drum corps itself is made up of up to 135 members and for DCI corps they cannot be above the age of 22. There is a somewhat long but very informative article over at Wikipedia that I suggest you check out if you're interested in learning more about the modern drum and bugle corps. I for one want to get on with the fun beginning with the clown princes of the DCI, the Velvet Knights.

I only saw this corps perform live one time however their flair for the absurd was a welcome break from how seriously many people take DCI. Sadly the Velvet Knights organization folded in 1997. This is a video of their 1992 finals performance, which marked the last time the would appear in the top twelve at the DCI World Finals. The show is titled "Magical Mystery Tour" and features "The Party's Over" from "Bells are Ringing" by Jule Styne, "Trepek" by Tchaikovsky, and "Hungarian Dance No. 2" by Johannes Brahms:

In that performance you may have noticed a moment where VK built to go into "Bottle Dance" from "Fiddler on the Roof," and the crowd reaction was rather enthusiastic. This is a callback to the Velvet Knights 1990 show where they transitioned from the "Jaws" theme into the "Bottle Dance" which in and of itself was a bit of a DCI in-joke as that song is more commonly associated with the Santa Clara Vanguard. In 1990 I assumed that the Velvet Knights were taking a bit of a poke at SCV for incorporating the song into their shows 1972, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1982, and 1992. (1973 and 1978 were championship years for the Vanguard.)

During the late 80's and early 90's the Santa Clara Vanguard developed a penchant for brining musicals to the field. The pinnacle of this period for the corps was when they won the DCI championship with a record-high cumulative score of 98.80* in 1989. The show they performed this year was a reworking of the previous year's "Phantom of the Opera" show. Sadly the only YouTube video I could find of this show is splint in to two parts and cannot be embedded so here are parts one and two. This victory was not without controversy since some saw it as a species of cheating to perform the same show two years in a row, even if the second show was a complete reworking of the first. Despite their on-field theatrics, such as the unveiling of a MASSIVE Vietnamese flag during their finals performance of "Miss Saigon," Santa Clara Vanguard was unable to recapture the DCI crown until 1999, when they shared the crown with the Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils are one of the premier corps on the circuit although I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of their music. They tend to stick to latin and jazz-influenced shows and while I understand the artistry and musicality of those particular genres, jazz in particular, they just do not appeal to me. Having said that, the Blue Devils consistently have one of the best percussion units in the DCI and their soprano horns can really scream. I was not able to find the show I wanted to include in this line-up (their 1990 performance of selections from Tommy) however if this short warm-up does not make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up then there is no hope for you:

I would also like to point out that they are not in what is considered a power formation.

One of the most profound impacts DCI had on my life is that it forced me to see classical music in a whole new light and the corps primarily responsible for this is the Phantom Regiment, a favorite of FotO Jack. By reworking pieces such as Anton Dvorak's "New World Symphony" and Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" they made the subtleties in the music more obvious to my somewhat untrained ear, which allowed me to better appreciate the music in its symphonic form. Once again I am not able to embed the YouTube videos in this post (making this one of the suckiest YouTubesdays ever) however you can watch their 1989 performance of the New World Symphony, which won a 2006 online poll as the fan's favorite performance of all time, here and here.

The Cavaliers, from Rosemont Il. are working to build a reputation as perhaps one of the greatest corps ever. One of the two remaining all-male corps, the other being the Madison Scouts, the Cavaliers have amassed a total of seven championships since their first in 1992. This includes the second three-peat in DCI history (2000, 2001, and 2002) and the feat of amassing five victories in a decade (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2006) which surpassed the previous mark of four victories in a decade jointly held by The Cadets (1983, 1984, 1985, and 1987) and the Blue Devils (1994, 1996, 1997, and 1999). Here is their show from 2004 titled "007":

The last corps I want to talk about before signing off for the evening is The Cadets. Throughout their history they have been variously know as the Holy Name Cadets, Garfield Cadets, and Cadets of Bergen County, all when they were based out of the Bergen County area of New Jersey which is where my father grew up. From very early in my DCI-watching career they were my favorite corps due to this somewhat tenuous link. Of course the fact that they are one of the best corps has nothing to do with it, having won the DCI championship nine times (1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1998, 2000, and 2005). They were the first corps to pull off a three-peat and currently share the record for the highest score with the 2000 Cavaliers. Unlike some corps, such as the Blue Devils and Phantom Regiment, they do not have a signature sound but rather seem to reinvent themselves with each season, having played music by such diverse talents as Jethro Tull, Leonard Berstein, Aaron Copland, and Bjork. While it is not one of their winning performances, their 1989 "Selections from Les Miserables" remains one of my favorite DCI shows of all time. Sadly like an alarming number of videos in tonight's post, this one has the embedding turned off and has been split in to two parts. You can view part 1 here and part 2 here. In order to get some video in here I went ahead and tracked down the Cadets championship performance of "Selections from Appalachian Spring" in 1987:

And part 2:

* This record would stand until 2002 when the Cavaliers scored a 99.15 which can be viewed here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Guess What Kids?

This weekend I completed my open water dives and I am now a PADI certified open water diver! SCUBA diving is something I have wanted to do since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. This was actually part of a larger fascination with marine biology in general. I spent much of my childhood torn between the desire to be a marine biologist (inspired by Jacques Cousteau), a paleontologist (inspired by my frequent finds of fossils on my grandparents land), or an astronaut (because what kid doesn't want to be one at one time or another?)

Anyways I just thought I would let you kids know that I was done and plan on returning to a more normal blogging schedule this week as I try to clean up my desk and figure out how I can fit everything I want to do in to the remnants of the summer. I cannot believe we're over half way done with this year. It does not feel like my visit to Scotland was over six months ago!

See you tomorrow with a proper DCI edition of YouTubesday.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

YouTubesday: The Short Edition

I apologize for my continuing slackitude here on the Opiate. Work has been moderately busy and my SCUBA class continues to eat up my free time in the evenings either with recovering from having to get up at 6 in the morning on both Saturday and Sunday or doing the additional book-work for my Advanced Open Water certification like tonight. I wanted to do a double-header YouTubesday and Funkywoodjamz post discussing DCI since the annual DCI performance in Houston is coming up next Thursday, but I need to get some reading done before bed so I am going to leave you with this one performance from 1988. Here are the Madison Scouts with their entire show from 1988 which concludes with a performance of Ernesto Lecuona's "Malaguena."

I chose this performance because the Scouts were at the first live DCI show I went to back in the summer of 1988 and while I prefer more classical pieces, their performance of "Malaguena" made an indelible impression on a young James. While this performance is from Drum Corps Holland, the Madison Scouts would go on to win the DCI championship in 1988, only their second since the founding of DCI in 1972.

Speaking of the 1980's and shorts:

Hopefully things will return to normal next week.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

More Excuses with YouTube to Distract You

So still no serious posting because of the SCUBA classes. It is not that there is that much to learn but more that I am TERRIBLE at my time management for which I pretend to be sorry, but deep down inside I am really not so much. I bought my basic equipment today before class as well as checked out my BCD, tank, and regulator. I might be sitting here in my underpants and SCUBA gear typing this right now. I am not but I know at least one of you is now stuck with that image in your mind. I did try to type this post with my gloves on but typing on a laptop keyboard with gloves is a pain in the ass.

To carry on about SCUBA for just a minute I would like to stumble across a hobby that I am in to which is not cash-intensive. I know you can rent most of the gear but I have dropped about $500.00 on equipment so far and I have yet to get a set of prescription lenses for my mask, a gear bag, or the mask I really want, which can be seen here. On top of that I have yet to buy the really expensive gear such as the BCD or a regulator and all the goodies that go along with that. Add to this that one of my main interests in SCUBA is adding to my repertoire as a photographer and that will either require investment in a new camera or a housing for the 20D, which runs in the $1500 range, if I remember correctly, and then additional lights and such. Oh well.

I am completely pumped about getting in the water this weekend! I do my confined water (pool) dives on Saturday and Sunday and then my open water dives next Saturday and Sunday. I predict light posting until sometime next week although if I can get my Most Honorable News-san post done for tomorrow I will. Till then have fun and I will leave you with this video:

I will leave you with a couple of videos from Chuuk where I hope to dive some day (preferably with a rebreather):

What do you know? This cat has a rebreather.

This one is courtesy of Matt "The Dancing Guy" Harding of Wherethehellismatt.com.

This is just here to freak Nikki out.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Man Goes into Cage."

Still busy cramming for SCUBA class so I just have a short post today. Sorry kids.

I am ABSOLUTELY terrified of sharks. My fear of them is so irrational that when getting into a dark swimming pool I am concerned about the Charcharodon population of said pool. Do not even get me started on creeks, rivers, and lakes where I cannot see what is going on, by which I mean pretty much any body of water. It does not help any that Bull Sharks are equally adept at swimming in freshwater and saltwater and have been sighted as far as 1,750 miles up the Mississippi. In fact I have refused to get in murky water and felt no shame in using, "Fuck that, there might be a big-ass shark in there waiting to eat me," as the excuse. (Lets face it, to something that is 10' long and full of sharp, pointy teeth I am nothing more than a nice, plump, warm and juicy Thanksgiving turkey that tastes surprisingly like chicken* and, much to said devourer's chagrin, drumstick-free.)

Where is all this going you may ask?

I just wanted to let you know that I stumbled across this website today and if my time and budget (ha!**) allow it I am SO doing this when I am in Hawaii.

* I just wanted you to know that when I typed chicken, I actually typed chikin and it took me a second of looking at it to be sure that was not right. I blame the cows. Damn you advertising cows!

** I like to pretend I have a budget for things. We all know this is a filthy lie.

Monday, July 02, 2007

"No Time for Love Dr. Jones!"

Sorry I don't have time for a proper post tonight. I am too busy cramming for my SCUBA class, something I should have been doing this weekend, but, as they say, if not for the last minute nothing would get done. In order to keep you cretins entertained I have scoured the depths of the internet to bring you Tokyo Dance Trooper:

Want more otaku-riffic wackiness? Check out Danny Choo's little place on the web.