'Tazza 2: The Hidden Card': Film Review

Courtesy of CJ Entertainment
High-stakes but low-octane thriller doesn’t noticeably improve on the original film’s familiar formula

This follow-up to "Tazza: The High Rollers" is another gambling feature following the popular Korean card game hwatu

Demonstrating barely any overlap with its 2006 predecessor Tazza: The High Rollers, the newTazza 2: The Hidden Card represents more of a spinoff than any chronologically coherent sequel. Despite setting a record at the South Korean box office with 3.1 million admissions since its domestic release earlier this month, the film’s elaborate plot and lack of franchise familiarity will likely limit response in North America to urban audiences and hardcore gaming enthusiasts.

Eschewing any plot recapitulation concerning its predecessor, Tazza 2's early scenes introduce young Dae-gil, who grows up wanting to be just like his uncle Goni, a card hustler who eventually meets an untimely end. His unfortunate fate doesn’t stop the adult Dae-gil (Choi Seung-hyun) from falling in with a slick Seoul gambling crew after proving himself at his hometown card tables, even though his move to the big city means leaving behind his first love, Mina (Shin Se-kyung). Betrayed by his Seoul gang, Dae-gil goes to ground, eventually managing to gather a sufficient stake to go up against heavyweight gambling gang boss Jang (Do Won-kwak) in the hopes of accumulating enough winnings to seek retribution against his former crew.

Distracted to discover that Mina is working for Jang, he’s duped again, losing $1 million; a debt the gangster partially recovers by harvesting one of Dae-gil’s kidneys. With a price on his head, he’s forced to flee for his life, coincidentally connecting with Go (Yu Hae-jin), his uncle’s former gambling partner. Go favors a much lower profile than Dae-gil is accustomed to, but taking winnings from blue-collar laborers and office workers turns out to be both safer and more profitable than he’d expected. The money enables Dae-gil to pay off Mina’s debt after Jang sells her into prostitution and together with Go they start their own crew. 

Their plan is to set up Jang so that Dae-gil can extract repayment for his pilfered kidney, but his quest for revenge unexpectedly brings Dae-gil to the doorstep of Agwi (Kim Yun-seok), a legendary gambler and his uncle’s former nemesis. Gathering Jang, Mina and Dae-gil, Agwi proposes a decisive card game that requires the ultimate wager to participate, but it appears to be Dae-gil’s only chance to settle his score with Jang.

Replacing Choi Dong-hoon as director, Kang Hyeong-cheol takes care to link the two Tazza films in the early scenes, introducing young Dae-gil to Go before hooking him up to become the older gambler’s protege at a later point. With a plot that’s more repetitive than intricate, the screenwriting team led by Huh Young-man adapts his original comic-book source material with an emphasis on excess, both narrative and financial, rather than creative plotting or absorbing character development. Throughout the film, characters come and go with a distracting regularity that feels like so much wearying plot churning.

Korean rapper Choi plays Dae-gil with a certain youthful desperation that rarely wavers throughout his consistently lightweight performance. Shin is well matched as his love interest, rarely registering as anything more than a pretty plot device. Only Yu as the slightly manic and surprisingly philosophical Go and Kim as the menacing king of gamblers make much of an impression, which regardless ends up well-dissipated over the film’s excessive running time.

Overseas audiences may end up frustrated with long repetitive scenes of characters playing the unfamiliar card game hwatu, which is a highly popular gaming pastime in Korea, but remains rather obscure for the uninitiated. In fact, the film’s overall devotion to gambling and the gaming lifestyle comes off as distastefully obsessive, a characteristic that Kang’s directorial style heightens to an almost fetishistic but unpersuasive level.   

Opens: Sept. 26 (CJ Entertainment
Production companies: Sidus Pictures, Lotte Entertainment
Cast: Choi Seung-hyun, Shin Se-kyung, Yu Hae-jin, Kim Yun-seok
Director: Kang Hyeong-cheol
Screenwriter: Huh Young-man, Lee Jee-gang, Cho Sang-bum
Producers: Lee An-na
Executive producers: Cha Won-chun, Moon Jae-seol 
Director of photography: Kim Tae-kyung
Production designer: Kim Si-yong
Editor: Nam Na-young
Music: Kim Jun-seok

No rating, 147 minutes