All that glitters is not gold, and all hit films are not masterpieces. But just because a movie isn’t that well made doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable.
Director Kwon Oh-kwang’s “Tazza: One Eyed Jack,” the third in a series about swindling gamblers, is a far cry from a masterpiece, but manages to be fun and loose in its own way. It trades in most of the characters and philosophy of the original comic book that it was based on for a much simpler story and original characters -- and the result isn’t half bad.
The story begins by retracing the final steps of legendary tazza -- Korean slang for sharper -- “Jjakgwi” (Joo Jin-mo), as he is chased by faceless goons and ultimately falls to his apparent doom. Years later, his son Do Il-chul (Park Jung-min), a student-by-day and gambler-by-night, falls for a beautiful woman named Madonna (Choi Yu-hwa) and ends up losing a small fortune and then some in a high-stake poker game.
Down on his luck and cash, mysterious tazza “Aekku” (Ryoo Seung-bum) appears before him and proposes the swindle of a lifetime. Joining them along the way are tazza Kkachi (Lee Kwang-soo), silver-tongued thief and self-proclaimed actress Young-mi (Lim Ji-yeon) and master swindler “Director Kwon” (Kwon Hae-Hyo).
Compared to the first film, critical and commercial success “Tazza: The High Rollers,” the new sequel is far more upbeat, the structure is simpler and it is more colorful and bright in terms of tone. The first -- as well as the original cartoon -- was fun, but also dark and gritty -- more “adult,” so to speak. This one feels more like a cartoon then the cartoon did.
Most of the cast members are accomplished actors known for their acting chops, and they carry their weight. Ryoo is easily the brightest of the bunch, making his presence felt each time he is on the screen, but Woo Hyeon as “Mool Young-gam” (meaning easily manipulated old codger) is both funny and menacing at times.
To be honest I expected more from Park, but he wasn’t bad, and the Lim-Lee couple -- while cliche -- is cute enough to get a few laughs,
Actually that was my impression of the whole film: It is cliched, pretentious and very predictable, but looks good and has just enough intriguing characters and subject matter to keep the audience invested. It’s not bad, but comes nowhere close to re-creating the tension, excitement and catharsis of the first entry in the series.
While the characters in “One Eyed Jack” are interesting, most of the story arcs don’t pan out and just dissolve into nothingness. They arrive onscreen with a bang, but their exits are woefully unimpressive. They look cool, but their action feels pretentious -- they are just posing to be cool.
The first film felt so “real.” Jo Seung-woo’s ingenious portrayal of the rise and fall of a young gambler had both incomparable energy and charm to it, as did the looming presence of Kim Yoon-seok’s iconic baddie “Agui.” The final showdown felt so epic because of the buildup and depth behind each of the characters that had been developed along the way.
Not here, though. The character development feels forced and the buildup toward mysterious villain “Magui” -- a cheap rip-off of Agui in name and spirit -- is predictable and lacks the charisma of Agui, along with the payoff from the final showdown.
But worst of all was Choi’s Madonna. Her character is just pointless. She is a mere plot device, just there to look pretty and help the movie pretend to be deeper than it really is.
Another problem I had was with all the blood and violence, which worked well with the dark and gritty nature of the first film, but clashed horribly with the light-hearted tone of the third.
The swindling, from planning to execution, was where it was most fun, provided in part by the chemistry within the team. The film’s fatal flaw was that the side characters and side story were more fun than the main ones, which resulted in the film stuttering toward a weak finish in the third act.
Overall, it feels like a totally different film from the first, which may be because “One Eyed Jack” changed nearly everything from the source material while “The High Rollers” followed a lot from the original storyline. Who is to say which is better?
The latter. It’s not even close.
But despite its flaws, “One Eyed Jack” is, in fact, not bad at all. It many ways, it reminded me of 2012 film “The Thieves,” which was also cliched and pretentious, but managed to be very fun and became one of the biggest hits in Korean box office history.
This film is not that much fun, and the out-of-character dark turns along the way will cost ticket sales, as will the weak third act. But while it won’t likely break any records, I won’t say it’s a bad choice when you have about two hours to kill. It’s at least far better than the second film of the series.
“Tazza: One Eyed Jack” opens in local theaters on Sept. 11.
By Yoon Min-sik (email@example.com