Published Oct 11, 2012Put plainly, The Thieves is South Korea's Ocean's Eleven. The recipe is simple: assemble a star-studded cast, a healthy budget, a swinging jazz score and a needlessly convoluted plot, and then let the flavours intermingle.
Dong-hoo Choi pulls off the playful banter, elaborately orchestrated bait and switches, and high-rolling stylization with the aplomb of Steven Soderbergh, but without that self-aware director's critical winking.
Choi gives his version of the grand heist caper a bit of a cultural stamp with distinctly physical action and perilous chase choreography, but even more so with a willingness to find the charm in unlikeable characters he doesn't feel compelled to ensure the safety of for the next franchise installment.
Macao Park (Yun-seok Kim, of phenomenal serial killer thriller The Chaser) is this film's Danny Ocean, and he's painted as a callous, opportunistic prick ― a perception that doesn't change much even after revelations later in the film.
Though he's at the heart of the web of thieves coming together to score an extremely valuable diamond from a casino vault, Park isn't given the on-screen prominence of an obvious lead. Instead, The Thieves is full-fledged ensemble piece, and in this case, that means that while there are a plethora of colourful personalities and engaging subplots, none of them are satisfactorily fleshed-out. Not even with a runtime exceeding two hours.
While the seemingly unending heist does wear thin eventually, most of the film clips along at a rapid pace, charming and entertaining, as the distrustful ranks of professional crooks fling zingers around the languages barriers of a group containing representatives from Korea, Japan and China.
Each one of them rightly expects to be double-crossed at any moment, and the reversals of fortune persist until the final frame. The Thieves isn't a movie with much of an agenda beyond emulating the sort of silly flash imported from Hollywood, but it proves that the South Korean film industry is just as capable of producing a fun, glossy distraction piece, albeit with a little extra grit and earnestness added to the process. (Well Go USA)