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South Korea 2006

Crime, Thriller, Drama

Choi Dong-hun

Cho Seung-woo
Kim Hye-su
Baek Yun-shik
Yu Hae-jin
Kim Eung-su
Kim Sang-ho
Lee Su-kyeong
Kim Jeong-nan
Kim Yun-seok
Jo Sang-geon
Seo Dong-soo

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Tazza: The High Rollers

aka The War of Flowers

Story: Goni (Cho Seung-woo) plays a game of cards called sotda one evening and loses all of his money. In order to win back his money he needs a big amount of cash as soon as possible which is why he steals the savings of his sister. He gets tricked during the game and once again loses all of his money. Goni decides to chase after the man who took him to the cleaners and during his hunt he runs into the professional sotda-player Pyeong (Baek Yun-shik) who is retired now. After long pleading he agrees to teach Goni the tricks of the professionalists, making Goni a successful player. However, Goni never really knows when to stop and so he someday parts company with his teacher and starts to work for the businesswoman Jeong (Kim Hye-su), who supplies him with some profitable jobs. But after the death of someone close to Goni he decides to trace Agwi (Kim Yun-seok) whom he believes to be the murderer. Unfortunately, he only gets near to him if he gets rid of Kwak (Kim Eung-su). Not only does Goni get more and more entangled in the net of illegal card games, but he also has to fear for his life now...

Review: "Tazza" is a thriller about illegal card games that was very well received in Korea and won quite some awards, too. However, this is not about your usual deck of poker cards, but the in Korea very popular hwatu-cards, small handy cards that of course are just perfect for cheating, provided you have a fast hand. Therefore, card games are in the focus here, yet the film never makes the mistake to try to simply create tension by capturing some tense looks at the card table. Instead the movie is provided with a complex story and a good cast which manage to bestow the necessary amount of adrenalin upon the movie. The actors can carry the story on their shoulders without any problems, too, despite the undoubtfully overlong running time of 140 minutes and they make the film more entertaining than you might have expected it to be. Still, a tighter screenplay would have evoked less glances at the clock.

The film is based upon a comic by Heo Yeong-man, but shifts the setting from the 60s to the 90s for reasons that never really become clear. Director Choi Dong-hun ("The Big Swindle") made a wise decision to take the time introducing the characters, but sadly he takes a bit too much time and not in the way that we feel it to be really necessary for a credible character exploration to unfold. In fact, we feel that it would have been better to cut these introductions short. To what extent Choi was just trying to stick to the comic original eludes my knowledge because I haven't read it, but the pacing without any doubt becomes the movie's biggest downside. Actually, there always seems to be happening something on screen, but many events seem to be dragged a bit too much for their own good so that the film loses focus at times. A good example is the villian. Has he finally been taken care of and we expect to be seeing the credits we suddenly realize that this guy actually wasn't the real villian. "Tazza" is too multilayered for a movie and most likely would have worked better as a TV-series (which remains to be seen as there actually is one, too).

Concerning the cinematography there is nothing to criticize. The pictures look enormously polished and make the movie shine in a qualitatively great look. Every now and then there are also some small nice details concerning the sets and thus it might not be surprising that "Tazza" can make up with that for some of its flaws. One of these flaws is the emotional distance we have towards the characters despite the respectable and lengthy introductions of the individuals. Oftentimes everything feels a bit cold and so it's even the more astonishing that the director manages to build up some tension in his movie. However, the suspense curve doesn't really seem to make sense with its ups and downs. Only the showdown does everything right and doesn't lose itself in an endlessly lasting card game. The problems may derive from the fact that "Tazza" introduces too many characters and despite the time it uses on them never succeeds in drawing them properly. Even if this mainly concerns the side characters it's nonetheless a flaw that could have been averted.

Hwa-ran, the girlfriend of Goni, for example is one of the many individuals in the film that only get a raw deal. You even have to wonder if she wasn't just introduced into the movie to give the villians a bargaining chip against Goni. Anyway, apart from that the actors can all give a convincing portrayal. Cho Seung-woo ("Marathon", "Wanee and Junah") gives a nice performance as the professional card player who naturally is always participating in the underground games stylishly dressed. As not to be expected otherwise, though, he is outplayed by Baek Yoon-sik ("Save the Green Planet", "The President's Last Bang") who almost has somethings monk-like about him in his supporting role as a card playing master. This impression is even emphasized by the fact that he doesn't want to take Goni in as his disciple at first until Goni has waited outside his house for a whole stormy and rainy night. True star, however, is Kim Hye-su ("Hypnotized", "The Red Shoes") as the femme fatale who is skilled in wrapping men around her finger and also doesn't refrain from showing the camera her physical charms.

The good acting achievements can't balance out the uneven screenplay, though. Moreover, you can never be certain what mood the film actually wants to create. Often it seems that the director wanted to have a more lighthearted tone in the movie's foreground, maybe also in order to reach a wider audience, at other times, however, "Tazza" is surprisingly dark and unmerciful. This ambivalence in tone also hinders the dramatic moments to work out the way they most likely were intended to. Anyway, the worst thing is that the movie is simply too long. Even to that extent that at some point actual boredom starts to unfold. Towards the end the tension level raises by quite some degrees so that you can't really call this a bad movie, but it still isn't enough to make up for the frustratingly lengthy middle part. "Tazza" is too entertaining for it not to be recommendable, yet it might only be worth checking out for those who can overlook some very obvious flaws.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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