A guy with a talent for cards makes his way into the dangerous world of underground gambling in this crime thriller from South Korea. Go-ni (Jo Seung-woo) is a small-town guy with a big ... See full summary »
A guy with a talent for cards makes his way into the dangerous world of underground gambling in this crime thriller from South Korea. Go-ni (Jo Seung-woo) is a small-town guy with a big appetite for gambling. Convinced he?s on a hot streak one evening during a card game, Go-ni bets his life savings on a hand of hwatu, only to lose to a crooked cardsharp. Determined to get revenge, Go-ni sets out to find the guy who cheated him and win back his money. Written by
A scrambled time-line leads to an initial sense of an impressionistic, messy plot that the viewer will have to try to put back together at the end. An overarching story does develop eventually even though the particulars pile up like a plate of noodles.
Go Ni is a young man who gets involved in gambling, first as a perpetual loser, then as an apprentice to a master gambler, and finally as an accomplished high roller that is heavily compromised with its violent milieu. The game is no-limit hwatu, a sort of Korean poker, played with thumb sized cards, any of which easily hidden in the palm of your hand. And there lies the rub, for the small size of the cards allows conjuring professional gamblers to win consistently over innocent suckers.
As Go Ni rises through the ranks, he eventually reaches the rarefied heights of the high rollers, where more money is bet than you can shake a stick at. It is also an environment of strongmen and women with its own violent rules.
There is a fair amount of hwatu gambling and it would help to know some about the game, in particular the ability to recognize card faces. It would help but it is not strictly necessary.
This is the kind of film whose central premise is that violence is entertaining. The more perverse the better. There is plenty of it, though the gore is contained. It is not the aseptic, blazing-guns style of violence so dear to the American psyche, but the intimate violence of the sharp blade more to the liking of orientals. The high rollers culture of illegal gambling filled with trickery and treachery but also with a retributive code of honor is a perfect breeding ground for that kind of violence. Mounds of money on the table are insufficient to pump adrenaline into the veins of underworld figures with plenty of blood in their hands. Limbs -- in the form of fingers, ears and hands -- are bet. It's no longer a question of winning but one of not losing, of humiliating and debasing your opponent psychologically but, more perversely, physically.
If gambling and blood fests are your cup of tea, then you should be satiated, otherwise you have been warned. If you do see this, pay attention to the four rules of the master. They can be useful for life in general. Paraphrasing rule four: "Your friends are not forever, neither are your enemies."
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