Friday, January 9, 2009

War of Flowers/Tazza: Overall Impressions

tazza hands

“Hwatoo is like life…you can’t take back your move during a game even if it was a mistake. It teaches how painful a moment's mistake can be.” – Kim Goni

Hwa – Fighting Too – Flowers - “The War of Flower”

A tazza (according to character Pyung Jung Kyang) is someone who appreciates the art of manipulation through the game. A tazza appreciates it as elegance: "That's why there are so many cheaters and so few tazzas."

Hwatoo is a Korean card game (the cards are called go-dori). There’s flowers and numbers and months and all sorts of analogies to life through hwatoo. Not a good life though. Nope. Not one little bit.

gostop_08I came in a Hwatoo virgin – not even knowing there had been a smash hit movie in 2006 or a series of manhwa (comics) from which the series had been based. I came in fresh and was entranced by the first episode. The cast was first rate, the chemistry was good, the energy level of each episode was high. The hour went by so quickly, I was surprised when it was over and couldn’t wait to watch the next.

prison goni Our main character is Kim Goni, played to perfection by Jang Hyuk. I simply cannot say enough about this man’s acting or his naked upper body. Both are absolutely thrilling; I could sit all day watching him do chin ups with the same enthusiasm as I could sit all day and watch him play in character. Any character. I just want to watch him emote. With no shirt on.

Sorry. No, not sorry. But if this is going to get written, I need to focus.

Goni and NanSook are in love, always have been. If you are ever confused over who truly loves who in a Korean drama, you have only to follow the pretty red thread back to the old necklace exchange when they are 11 years old (#55 on the list). It’s easy when you know how to read the signs.

cast Goni and Young Min (played by the very attractive and charismatic Kim Min Joon – third picture from the left) are best friends in high school. We know this after seeing them pull a con in a billiards hall together, run away, and gleefully jump off a bridge into the back of a garbage truck. Goni is fiercely loyal and would do anything for those he loves. Young Min seems a little proud, won’t take his share of the get from billiards, he’s a little stand offish.

Circumstances arrange themselves so that our friends become mortal enemies up against a slick backdrop of casinos, gambling dens, desperate addictions, and twisted passions. The series played on the success of one of the best buddy movies ever made - “The Sting” starring Robert Redford and the late Paul Newman. The plotting toward the end had a distinct “Ocean’s Eleven” flavor, though not as polished.

The series missed an opportunity there, I thought. There was tragedy, there had to be, but the end con could have been handled differently. The direction of the film was different, with a different message at the end, not one that glorifies gambling, not one that shoves the evil of addiction down your throat, but more about greed and it’s destruction.

The love affair between Goni and NanSook was lacking as well. We are meant to believe that it is genuine and powerful. For the most part, while it was sweet and endearing it lacked punch as our characters matured. Their first kiss, shared when in their twenties, was chaste and almost embarrassed. OK, I might buy that ~ this is Korean Drama afterall. But later on, our lovers should have poured a little bit of the desperation of their circumstances into subsequent meetings ~ I'm thinking specifically of when they meet after Goni escapes from the pen. If a hot Jang Hyuk, fresh out of prison risks discovery and an arm by forcing his way into my elevator, you can bet I'm going to be all over him like egg in a bowl of bibimbap. A naked egg in a hot HOT bowl of bibimbap.

But then THAT wouldn't be k-drama, would it?

Young Min throughout would appear to be driven by greed and power. I kept comparing Young Min to Yeom Moon in Emperor of the Sea. Another orphaned youth taken under an evil wing (amusingly enough, also played by Kim Kap Soo, Yeom's Moon's Master Yi in that series), Yeom Moon is fiercely loyal to his adoptive "father", desperately in love with the protagonist's woman Jung Hwa and smoking ruthless as played by the charismatic Song Il Guk. It was either the power of Song's performance or the gift of the writers that brought that dynamic to a weeping climax as the audience wanted Yeom Moon's redemption more than it wanted to see the hero Bogo win the day. And as much as I liked Young Min, I didn't get that same spine tingly feeling in the character.

I really enjoyed this series. There were some fine cons played with excellent twists. I bled with Jang Hyuk as he wrestled with his guilt and loss. I ached for Young Min each time he betrayed his friends, and kept hoping for his redemption. I delighted in all the side characters ~ and I enjoyed the bitch-play between Madam Jang (Kang Sung Yun) and Lee Nan Sook (Han Ye Seul).

Madam Jang by the way? Absolutely fabulous.

I’m irritated that this series didn’t get the recognition that it deserved. The acting was first rate and the storyline energetic. I haven’t been this enthusiastic in a while about a drama in some time and I think it deserved more kudos than it got.

Review will be up later.


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