As a slick heist film somewhere between “Ocean’s Eleven”(2001) and Guy Ritchie’s crime comedy films, South Korean movie “The Thieves” has expected things and unexpected things in its twisty story populated with ten untrustworthy criminals who gather for the same purpose with each own private agenda hidden from each other. While finding its plot a rather predictable due to its generic side, I enjoyed how the movie cheerfully juggles its familiar elements in the air while rarely losing its fun, and I also found that some of the unexpected things in the film were really interesting or exciting.
The set-up process is always required in heist films for establishing their characters at the beginning, and “The Thieves” is no exception. At the opening sequence, we see four criminal characters at work to steal an expensive artifact which is kept at the safe of some museum with high-tech security system. With their meticulous timing through teamwork, they have successfully done their job, and the police have only suspicions on them with no direct evidence to link them with the crime.
They are Anycall(Jeon Ji-hyeon), Popeye(Lee Jeong-jae), Chewing Gum(Kim Hae-sook), and Jampano(Kim Soo-hyeon) – I am sure that their parents did not give them such funny names. Right after finishing their latest job, they go to Hong Kong because Macao Park(Kim Yoon-seok) summons them for his big heist plan, and Pepsi(Kim Hye-soo), who was an ex-partner of Popeye and Macao Park, also goes with them after being released from prison although she seems to be not in Macao Park’s plan.
In Hong Kong, we also meet Macao Park’s Chinese associates Chen(Simon Yam) and his guys; Julie(Angelina Lee), Johnny(Derek Tsang), and Andrew(Oh Dal-soo). They do not trust their South Korean partners as much as their counterparts do not like them, but all of them are drawn by Macao Park’s plan; they are going to steal a big diamond called ‘Tear of the Sun’, which is currently owned by a powerful and ruthless crime boss/fence in Macao.
Although it has been being kept safely in the crime boss’ casino hotel in Macao while heavily guarded by the multiple security systems in the building, Macao Park has a clever plan to infiltrate into the place where the jewel is kept at, and he needs his accomplices’ assistance for that. As required by its genre, we see how they prepare for their D-day step by step, and the actors in the film have a nice fun together while their characters are interacting with each other in one way or other ways. They surely can work together as partners for a common goal, but can they trust each other?
Through several flashbacks, we gradually realize that most of the characters don’t trust each other while having each own scheme to be sprung sooner or later. For example, Pepsi apparently has some old scores to be settled because she believes Macao Park betrayed her in their botched job in the past(she was sent to jail because of that). Chen, who really knows how merciless their opponent can be as well as how untrustworthy Macao Park is, concocts his own plan with his guys just in case. Anycall, who uses her athletic skills even when she is not working, is getting some idea about what she can do for her benefit with her partners including Jampano, a naive young man who has been carrying a torch for her for a while.
There are many other things I will not reveal to you, but let’s say the director/co-writer Choi Dong-hoon, who previously made funny and enjoyable crime movies such as “The Big Swindle”(2003) and “The War of Flower”(2006), deftly handles not only his characters but also their motives and plans in his crowded story. The characters are simple enough to be described in few lines, but they are colorful figures of their underworld, and how they roll around the plot is fun to watch. Choi does a good job of using various locations including Macao and Hong Kong to engage us, and, while we get a well-made heist sequence as expected, we are also treated with an exhilarating action sequence where many characters simultaneously move around the inside and outside of one shabby high-rise apartment building. It begins with flying bullets and noisy explosions, which are sort of tiresome to me and others nowadays, but it gives us a clear idea about what the characters are doing or what they are going to do amidst busy actions, and then it surprised me with its perilous chase action on the wall of the apartment building. Unlike “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”(2011), they surely used stunt actors in many shots, but it felt real to me and I could believe the characters on the screen really were moving or jumping on the ledges of the building while precariously hung by their respective ropes.
The actors are uniformly good while not overshadowing each other. While Kim Yoon-seok, who collaborates again with the director(it is their fourth collaboration), is dependable as usual at the center of the story, his co-performers have their own moments. Lee Jeong-jae, Kim Hye-soo, Kim Soo-hyeon and Oh Dal-soo give solid supporting performances, and Jeon Ji-hyeon is especially notable a plucky criminal who smoothly moves around others while looking for anything useful to her; she deserves to be compared with Anne Hathaway in “The Dark Knight Rises”(2012). The Chinese performers are also interesting to watch, and Simon Yam has a good chemistry with Kim Hae-sook when their characters are irresistibly drawn to each other while keeping their disguise in check. Along with the brief chapel scene between Macao Park and Pepsi, what Chewing Gum and Chen will get in the end is one of the nice melodramatic touches in the movie which are clearly influenced by the Hong Kong action noir films in the 1980s.
Although I think its second half is a little too long, “The Thieves” is a smart, entertaining movie with considerable amount of fun and excitement. I had a pretty good idea about where the story was going while watching it, and it worked as I expected, but it entertained me more than I initially thought while playing fair with me and the other audiences around me. This will be a nice counterprogram to “The Dark Knight Rises” on this weekend at South Korean theaters.