Tazza: The High Rollers

| September 26, 2012

This stylish Korean drama is, without a doubt, the single most epic gambling film I have ever seen, and this coming from someone who once put together a course about gambling films. Adapted for the screen by Choi Dong-hun (The Big Swindle) from the manhwa by Huh Young-man, 2006’s Tazza (The War of Flower) is like a cross between Rounders and Scarface. It’s the Spartacus of gambling movies, if you will, with regard to its sprawling narrative scope. Moreover, the film is now available on DVD from 5 Points Pictures with nearly two hours and fifty minutes of special features for we diehard few fanatics of the gambling picture (and anyone else with any common sense) to drool and obsess over.

The film opens with a group of professionals swindling smalltime Hanafuda player Goni out of a small fortune in a backroom game of Hwatu (a.k.a. The War of Flowers). Shamed and unable to face his family, Goni leaves home and sets out on a quest for revenge that finds him quickly rising up in to the ranks of the nation’s most skilled players with allegiances shifting from one gang of professional gamblers to another. Thus Goni traverses the South Korean gambling underworld, where you put your life on the table every time you pick up a deck of cards (and literally, in fact, as the final game in the film is played atop a blood-stained table).

Director Dong-hun approaches the material here with remarkable visual flair. Split screens and frantic editing underscore games of Hwatu throughout, echoing the frenzied pace of the game itself. But the cool, restrained visual stylings during down times likewise engage viewers’ senses throughout, allowing us to soak in this surprisingly lengthy narrative without noticing the time. Indeed, the film boasts a running time of two hours and twenty minutes. But you’d never know it watching it. So skillful is the filmmaking here, so frenzied the gambling scenes, so hypnotically graphic the violence that this epic narrative concludes seemingly all-too-soon. The only thing that stymies the narrative flow stylistically, and in fact constitutes the only qualm I have with the picture, is the inclusion of chapter titles throughout. These chapter titles pop up every so often, fail to add to our understanding/enjoyment of the narrative, and force the flow of the piece to stumble slightly. Barring that, however, and it’s a minor complaint indeed, Tazza is a damn near perfect piece.

The second of the two discs in the DVD release of Tazza from 5 Points Pictures is devoted entirely to special features, of which there are indeed many. Highlights include featurettes about the manhwa and its adaptation here, a behind-the-scenes featurette, interviews, a documentary about tricks and techniques of Hwatu, and deleted and alternate scenes with optional director’s commentary. If you’ve even the remotest fascination or affection for gambling pictures, this is one film you absolutely cannot afford to miss, especially in this terrific release from 5 Points!

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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