Sept 28, 2006
If you expect the extreme logic and totally absorbing force of "The Big Swindle" from director Choi Dong-hoon’s new work "War of Flower" you will be disappointed. But the new film is still engaging enough to prove an intellectual talent rare in Korea’s Hollywood Chungmuro. A gripping combination of crime thriller and gambling movie, "War of Flower" released on Thursday pieces together into a complicated puzzle. The director’s taste for a brain teaser rather than melodrama is again evident in this gripping film, and viewers will be grateful for that.

A poster for "War of Flower"

.After losing all his money including his sister’s dowry in a card game, Goni (Cho Seung-woo) meets the legendary flower card master Pyeong Gyeong-jang (Paek Yoon-shik). The famous gambler is afraid of nothing if he has 48 flower cards with him. Determined to stop gambling when he makes five times as much money as the dowry he lost, Goni starts to learn the skills. But he breaks his word after being seduced by casino hostess Jeong (Kim Hye-soo).

The first half part of the two-and-a-half-hour movie based on a series of comic books by Huh Young-man makes viewers feel breathless just to keep up with all the new characters introduced — this may be because even the rather long running time is not enough time to render life as vividly as the original — but the second half is unbearably suspenseful even for readers of the original comic books. It may be the director’s talent to put the jigsaw together piece by piece, but it is the actors who give life to the story. Cho Seung-woo’s acting is somewhat repetitive and standard as young Goni, but as he grows into a flower card master, he shows he has the potential to become a master at his own craft one day.

And no one could have played a femme fatale better than Kim Hye-soo, who pours all she has into playing the hostess, whose role is bigger than in the original. Yoo Hae-jin also shows himself indispensable in a part that breaks the tension with his talkativeness and dissimulation at critical moments in the film. In a scene where he kisses a bar hostess seduced in a dark shabby theater in the neighborhood, his acting reaches the level of high art. Paek Yoon-shik, already an established character actor with his role in "The Big Swindle," once again proves that he is unrivaled at playing the shark. You will know what "electric" means when you hear him threaten someone, and see his expression at the last, life-or-death game.