Director: Choi Dong-hoon
Starring: Cho Seung-woo, Kim Hye-su, Baek Yun-shik, Yoo Hae-jin, Kim Yun-seok
Based on the Korean comic of the same name, Tazza: The High Rollers, revolves around Goni (Jo Seung-woo) a habitual gambler gullible person. When he loses all of his money and that of his sister’s to professional swindlers, he ends up learning the art of gambling from legendary master Pyeong (Baek Yoon-shik). After developing his skills to nearly that of his master, he travels about the country playing his game and con looking to earn back the money he lost and find the swindlers responsible. On his travels he meets up with the lovely Jeong (Kim Hye-soo) and the not as skilled but good friend Gwang (Yoo Hae-jin). Attracting the attention of other pros, Goni’s skills will be put to the test when he comes up against pro gambler Agui (Kim Yoon-seuk) an underworld player that has a habit of destroying the hands of cheating players. With Goni betting his life, will he be able to swindle the player that even his master refused to play?
Director Choi Dong-hoon’s love affair with cool underworld dealers continues in Tazza. Entering the world of shady card games, Choi directs a stylish but somewhat dark picture heavily inspired by both film noir and modern glamour. The sets are detailed and clearly show that as the situation becomes more dire, so do the surroundings deteriorate. It is an interesting visual technique that clearly contrasts the main acts of the film. Art direction is good with populated sets and really nice costume direction. Crisp suits, tight dresses, and the look of gangsters are captured well here; it is an amazingly tight picture.
Jo Seung-woo really transforms here; from a terrible child of a man into a cool and collected professional who knows he is better than you. With a seeming nonchalance, he goes about his work with a measured aim and with even major setbacks, he has a plan for. Kim Hye-soo smolders on the screen, she literally oozes sex appeal and personifies quite well the idea of a Dragon Lady. As mesmerizing as she is beautiful, I could not take my eyes off of her. Yoo Hae-jin gives a typically comedic performance but his Gwang is certainly more loyal than a few other characters he’s done over the years. He gives a bit of comedy and grounds Goni to the real world, showing that there may be a life outside of gambling. Kim Yoon-seuk is terrific as Agui; he is sleazy, manipulating, and an all-around intimidating threat. The rest of the cast does well, but these guys truly outshine even the great talent on the side.
As stated above, the look of the film from is heavily influenced by classic film noir. The use of shadows and lighting creates a whole other world beneath our own that gamblers and swindlers populate just outside our perception. I certainly won’t look at a docked ship the same way again, without imagining illicit gambling taking place in the hold. The look is not the only infusion of noir present; the terrific score features saxophones, trumpets, and moody percussion for many scenes. All of it is very cool and very apropos.
Tazza: The High Rollers is an amazingly entertaining film. Compelling acting and a terrific cast support a stylish and engaging picture. Despite its surprisingly long runtime, nothing feels rushed and the film goes along at a good clip. I honestly cannot recommend this movie enough; it is a mature, slick, and wildly fun film.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: The Big Swindle, The Thieves, Ocean’s Twelve
Special Thanks to Five Point Pictures for providing a viewing copy!