Dong-hun Choi, director
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.