Heist or crime caper films are a dime-a-dozen. While most are mediocre using formula and familiar devices, there are a select few that actually made such films work. Heist films need 1) interesting characters 2) a near-impregnable place to rob 3) a good and believable scheme with a credible motivation 4) an impressive plan and an original execution of the actual heist. And 5) perhaps an unpredictable twist. I wouldn’t say that such a film needs to fulfill all those needs, but I really would like to see interesting characterization.
Director Choi Dong-Hoon’s “The Thieves” has a star-studded cast that includes Kim Hye-Soo (Tazza The High Rollers), Jyeon Ji-Hyun (aka. Gianna Jun, Blood the Last Vampire), Simon Yam (SPL), Angelica Lee (The Eye), Kim Yoon-Seok (The Yellow Sea), and Lee Jung-Jae (Typhoon). It is no surprise that it became the second highest grossing film in the history of Korean cinema, and given Choi Dong-Hoon’s other impressive films under his belt such as “Tazza the High Rollers” and “The Big Swindle”, I became very intrigued.
The film’s set up is simple enough. A gang of thieves being led by Popie (Lee Jung-Jae) had just completed a job ripping off a crooked curator. This gang is made up of a cat burglar named Yenicall (Jyeon Ji-Yeon), con-woman named Chewing Gum (Kim Hae-Sook, Thirst), and a stud, Jampano (Kim Soo Hyun). After things get a little too hot in Korea, and their old associate Pepsee (Kim Hye-Soo) had just been released from jail, the group agrees to join with another group of thieves (Angelica Lee, Oh Dal-Soo and Derek Tsang) from Hong Kong led by Chen (Simon Yam) to rob a casino and take a rare diamond. The plan has been masterminded by a legendary master thief named Macau Park (Kim Yeon-Seok) who seems intent on robbing a mysterious, big crime boss named Wei Hong (Ki Gook-Seo). But as things take a turn for the worst, just who gets screwed when there is no honor between thieves…or is there?
To be honest, while “The Thieves” is a film that may give the impression that it is a bare-bones heist flick, the core of its plot do not revolve around an extravagant, elaborate heist. Yes, there are two scenes of a heist in the film; one in the beginning of the film to develop the central characters and another to conclude the first half. The first scene of the film with Yenicall and Bubble Gum quickly grabbed my attention, as I felt that there was something very “John Woo” and “Kim Ji-Woon” about to happen. The first heist in the opening act was incredibly well-staged with scenes that felt ripped off from that marvelous skyscraper shots in “MI3: Ghost Protocol”.
The writing and the direction both done by Choi keeps things straight-forward, as thieves meet thieves with some folks in the mix having a long history of, well, crime. It takes a little while to pick up, and honestly, I was a little disappointed with the forced “young sexual tension” between Jampano and Yenicall. I know they were there to serve some good moments of humor, but really, the humor presented by Chewing Gum and the others would’ve been sufficient to charm its viewer. Not sure, it became a chore to keep up with the copious amount of characters, I thought the film had began to lose its footing. Fortunately, the past relationship between Macau Park and Pepsee was able to keep me intrigued.
As soon as the heist in the casino was set up, staged and executed, the film quickly began its way to an energetic forward momentum as the story becomes a little more complex. Here, we get to see several things that induce stress to the different kind of “star-crossed love” as we also get to see one screw job after another. It is all about ‘no honor between thieves’ and how one needs to follow one’s feelings to make it in this ’theives’ world. The viewer also gets further into the details of the characters (some via flashbacks), as certain interrelationships and hidden secrets serve to build on its momentum. The twists and surprising turns that the film takes were inventive in execution, albeit not wholly original and a little convoluted, as things were revealed and the motivations behind Macau Park’s intentions became the film‘s central focus.
“The Thieves” has an extremely “Western” feel to it. This film has ‘Hollywood remake coming” written all over it. It is the kind of film that is easy to enjoy and easy to like. It may not have fulfilled all my requirements for a fantastic heist flick, but its well-drawn characters and the good performances from its central cast is sure to captivate its viewer. Incredibly sexy Kim Hye-Soo almost stole the show with her alluring appeal while Kim Yeon-Seok commanded the tempo of the film. A highly convoluted plot, incredible cinematography and impressive camerawork, a cheeky, if uneasy sense of humor with several well choreographed action sequences (that includes a fight along the side of a building) make “The Thieves” feel like an “Ocean’s Eleven-lite”, “Ghost Protocol” and “Leverage” fare that has massive commercial appeal.
Yes, the direction did have its rough areas, and the screenplay was a little difficult to follow on occasion; it sure wasn’t perfect. It took a little longer to take off and several parts in the first half bored me. But once Choi grabs your attention, you can easily go with its flow as its maze of twists, interrelationships and surprises gives it a lot of things to like as a highly-stylized caper flick. Its action set pieces and an effort in real characterization gives this genre film something more than your typical heist movie that it gets a timid recommendation from me. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
Caper flicks have been done before. For the record, the French have had a few solid outings. I’ve yet to see anything significant from the Russians. The Brits can pull them off with surprising aplomb, as can many other production houses throughout the United Kingdom. I would have to say, though, that the United States has put out the lion’s share of the truly memorable ones. I couldn’t say why that is exactly; maybe it’s … more