A sparkling heist film tricked up with imaginative action scenes and 10 fully developed characters who keep the ball rolling, The Thieves is a stylish and entertaining caper. Dubbed South Korea's answer to Ocean's Eleven, the story does indeed revolve around a daring casino theft and a playful band of robbers, in this case all ace criminals.
Directed by heist-meister Choi Dong-hoon (The Big Swindle) and featuring a swinging A-list cast, it has topped 13 million domestic admissions to become the most-watched Korean film of all time.
Apart from generating a great deal of romantic chemistry, the glamorous cast of characters are as fast with barbed wit as they are nimble on their feet or, as the case might be, flying through the air, climbing up the side of a building or dangling by wires. The fact that each of them is memorably individualized marks a tribute to Choi and Lee Gi-cheol's carefully penned screenplay as well as the acting talent. Adding a modern note, the actresses get equal time and respect as pros in their field.
Although the plot unfolds at the speed of light and the viewer needs to be very quick-witted to follow it, this isn't Shakespeare, and missing out on a few story points won't diminish the fun.
It all begins with a Korean gang's plans for a big heist in Macau with a band of thieves from Hong Kong. Director Choi has a magician's touch in keeping multiple balls in the air while making the impossible seem vaguely plausible. A big part of the sleight of hand is the joking tone of the dialogue and goofy action that always seems on the verge of cueing an entrance by Inspector Clouseau and the Pink Panther, as the action scenes get wilder and wilder and romances and betrayals get even more entangled. The technical work always hits the mark, with the musical score adding tension or ironic comment as needed.
Venue: Busan Film Festival
Opens in U.S.: Friday, Oct. 12 (Well Go USA)
Cast: Kim Yun-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Lee Jung-jae, Gianna Jun, Simon Yam, Kim Hae-sook
Director: Choi Dong-hoon No rating, 135 minutes