The US may have gambling movie franchises like the Ocean’s 11 series but these are a comparative rarity in Korean cinema. However, one notable exception is the Tazza series. With the third in the franchise having been released in early September 2019, now seems like a good time to take a look back at where it came from, where it’s taken us, and what could be next.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the story is the sheer number of forms it’s appeared in. Like many franchises, including the Marvel movies, it started as a comic by Huh Young-man called Tazza: The Hidden Card. In 2006 it was turned into a film directed by Kang Shin-hyo, starring Jang Hyuk as the central character, Kim Goni.
The story involves Goni who has been swindled out of all of his money by cheats, so he decides to be trained in the art of gambling to win it all back. Naturally, he succeeds in playing the card game hwatu and the film ends well for the character. Its reception at the box office was equally good news for its makers where it became one of the highest-grossing films in Korean cinema, costing $5.5 million to make and recouping $39 million for its makers.
This, and the whole film series, undoubtedly struck a chord with Korean audiences even though their own experience of gambling may have been restricted to the occasional visit to a roulette site. After all, once one has experienced the excitement of playing one of the games available on one of these sites it’s all too easy to empathize with a character like Goni.
The film was also so successful that it was expanded into a whole TV series that ran for 18 episodes between September and November 2008 winning a number of the year’s SBS awards in categories including Best actor and actress for Jang Hyuk and Han Ye-seul respectively.
Its next outing on the big screen came in 2014 with the movie Tazza: The Hidden Card. Again this involved the central character getting involved in a number of high stakes games, the final one of which threatens to be fatal. Although not quite as successful as the original film it still managed to take $31 million at the box office as well as earning a raft of awards nominations and being named best feature film at the 4th DramaFever Awards.
This brings us up to the very latest in the series, Tazza: One-Eyed Jack. In this film the game is poker and our hero, Do Il-chul, played by Park Jung-min, is a young card player down on his luck. To try to set things right he joins forces with the legendary One-Eyed Jack of the title but ends up getting in way out of his depth.
It’s fast, it’s furious and it’s already done so well financially that there are already rumors that the fourth in the series is being planned. Where it will go and whether any of the previous cast will play a part, we’ll just have to wait and see.