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‘Tazza: One Eyed Jack’ to cap off gambling trilogy with poker

The “Tazza” trilogy, a movie adaptation of the popular gambling comic book series of the same name, will conclude next month with the opening of its third film, “Tazza: One Eyed Jack.”

Director Kwon Oh-Kwang and the cast took part in a press conference to promote the film in Seoul on Thursday.

Unlike the first two films, which dabbled in the Asian card game hwatu, the third is about poker. The “one-eyed jack” in the title can refer either to the jack of spades or the jack of hearts, as each card has only one eye showing. 

“Tazza: One Eyed Jack” (Lotte Entertainment)
“Tazza: One Eyed Jack” (Lotte Entertainment)

While the second film got mixed reviews that ranged from ho-hum to subpar, the first one, “Tazza: The High Rollers,” was considered one of the best films of 2016, meaning the upcoming film has some large shoes to fill.

“Unlike in the previous films, the unique characters in this film move as a team and each does their part. ... It is faster-paced (than the previous films) but has the sentiment of those films. To be honest, I tried very hard not to be hung up on the idea that it has to be better than the previous films,” the director said, adding that he wanted to make a film everyone could enjoy, even if they missed the first two.

Kwon went on to say that he’d focused on the psychological aspects of gambling and the suspense.

“The bottom line is that this film is about characters. Its biggest charm lies in how each different character would contribute to the story,” he said.

The film follows Il-chul, played by Park Jung-min, a poker player and a son of legendary gambler Jjag-gwi. He gets drawn into a scam involving “Madonna” (Choi Yu-hwa) and Lee Sang-mu (Yoon Je-mun). Just as he is about to self-destruct, he encounters a mysterious gambler: Aekku (Ryu Seung-bum), which means “one-eyed.”

Aekku set up an enormous gambling round with 5 billion won ($4.1 million) at stake, against skilled gamblers like Kkachi (Lee Kwang-su), Yeong-mi (Im Ji-yeon) and Mr. Kwon (Kwon Hae-Hyo).

Playing the title character of Tazza, which means top gambler, Park said he enjoyed the story but felt enormous pressure.

“The scenario was fun, but I felt an enormous weight that I would have to shoulder if I played the role. ... Then I met the director, and he wrote me a long email explaining why I had to play this part. That got me to commit,” Park said.

Lee Kwang-soo, an actor well known for his appearance in the SBS show “Running Man,” worked with the young director on his 2015 film “Collective Invention.”

“He (the director) told me that he saw a “careless punk” in me, and asked me to play the character more frivolously but with a lovable edge. That was the basis for my character,” Lee said.

Each Tazza film has had a somewhat unorthodox guru character who is a mentor to the protagonist, a role expected to be played by Ryu Seung-bum. Although the veteran actor failed to attend the event on Thursday, Kwon said he hoped his charisma would come to represent the team of hustlers in the film.

“Tazza: One Eyed Jack” hits local theaters Sept.11.

By Yoon Min-sik