Friday, September 20, 2019

Tazza: One Eyed Jack

Gamblers who rely on luck are just plain gamblers. Gamblers who employ “skill” consider themselves “swindlers.” Somewhere in between, you will find “Tazzas,” the legendary gamblers of Korea’s underworld. A poker-playing college student gets burned by a notorious Tazza, but a less frightening Tazza will recruit him for a potentially lucrative caper—and perhaps a chance for pay back in Kwon Oh-kwang’s Tazza: One Eyed Jack, which opens today in New York.

Do Il-chool is more comfortable at a card table reading people and calculating odds than taking notes in a lecture hall. Unfortunately, his luck runs out when he meets a femme fatale known as Madonna. It turns out she is the deceitful accomplice of the infamous Tazza known as “Demon,” or “Ma-gwi.” She throws Do so far off his game, he winds up deeply indebted to loan sharks.

Fortuitously, the Zen-like Tazza, “One Eyed Jack,” comes along at an opportune moment, to pay off his debts and enlist his services for a big-time swindle. The mark will be Mool Young-gam, an arrogant real estate mogul involved in some seriously shady dealings. Mool also can’t resist a not so friendly game of cards. Do and “Director Kwon” will worm their way into his confidence posing as his poker mercenaries, while Kkachi the swindler and Young-mi, the “actress,” will bait him masquerading as an obnoxious nouveau riche couple in the market for a weekend home, with One Eyed Jack pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Based on the third volume of the Tazza graphic novel series, One Eyed Jacks is considerably darker and more violent than the previous Tazza film, The Hidden Card. However, it is still fully stocked with twisty-turvy Runyonesque deceptions and betrayals. The con is most definitely on and on and on.

Park Jung-min is certainly adequate enough taking over for T.O.P. as the latest young new cardsharp in town. In fact, he is considerably steelier, which is a good thing. However, films like this never belong to the leading man. Instead, it is the colorful supporting casts that make or break them.

In this case, Ryoo Seung-bum radiates coolness and rock-solidly anchors the film as One Eyed Jack. Lim Ji-yeon and Lee Kwang-soo definitely lay it on pretty thickly, but they are still amusing as the bickering scammer tandem, Young-mi and Kkachi. Yoon Je-moon chews the scenery quite devilishly as Demon, but Woo Hyeon out-chews him as the slimy, rat-like Mool. However, Choi Yu-hwa is problematically passive and weirdly distant as Madonna. There is not much narrative connection to the previous Tazza films, but Joo Jin-mo technically returns in the tough luck prologue, briefly reprising the role of Jjakgwi.

Tazza: One Eyed runs well over two hours, but it never feels that long. Kwon keeps the fat out and maintain a high-octane speed. It is tougher than the previous film, but it is still fun. The tone is not unlike Rounders, but it deals out far more criminal-thriller business. Recommended for fans of gambling and caper movies, Tazza: One Eyed Jack opens today (9/20) in New York, at the AMC 34th Street.

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