Working with a small crew of thieves and con men in South Korea, Popeye (Jung-Jae Lee) has earned himself quite a reputation as a capable organizer and thief. His crew has pulled off a successful job of an ancient artifact and is all set to do another job, if a somewhat curious one. A former associate (Uh-oh! Drama and history!) of Popeye's, legendary thief Macao Park (Yun-seok Kim) has a plan to steal a famous diamond, the Tear of the Sun, worth some $20 million. They won't be able to do it alone though, teaming with another infamous thief, Chen (Simon Yam), and his own team from Hong Kong to pull off the job. The diamond is under heavy security at a Macau casino. Macao Park's plan though is ridiculously detailed, counting on countless separate pieces working together at the exact right second. Let the fun begin.
The comparison for this heist flick is obvious, it's a South Korean Ocean's Eleven. Well, mostly, it's got a mean, downright dark streak up its back. It uses the basic premise -- team of thieves and specialists working together to pull off a job -- but manages to create its own identity. From director Dong-Hoon Choi, 'Thieves' now stands at the second highest grossing film in Korean history. I don't know how much to read into that, but I can safely say it was successful. It should be that way for a reason, right? No need to worry here. It's a winner. I liked it from the start, both for its familiarity with a great genre but also for an ability to add some solid tweaks, twists and turns in the process.
Maybe the coolest thing I was able to take away from this South Korean heist flick was its style. It was filmed in South Korea, Hong Kong and Macau, and there isn't a scene that isn't full of vibrant colors and movement. It sounds simple, but it goes a long way. The story itself is really interesting, but actually watching a good-looking visual film can be a treat, like here. Using that stylistic filmmaking as a jumping off point, the story does a good job keeping the viewer guessing too, but more on that later. More than though, it jumps from tone to tone smoothly. It is equal parts funny, dramatic, sexy and action-packed. One ridiculously cool action sequence has Macao Park running from heavily-armed gunmen, leaping off the side of a building and descending down the side. He swings back and forth with an attached bungee cord, his pursuers doing the same. With action scenes, it's harder and harder to come up with something audiences haven't seen, but this one is an action masterpiece.
Mostly though, 'Thieves' is a good flick because of the deep cast. I don't know much about Korean films/actors, but from doing a little research (Oh, clever Internet), it's apparent the cast here is as All Star as they get with a lot of name recognition and star power. Introduced to this cast, I came away very impressed. Lee as Popeye is the smooth up-and-comer, leading his crew that includes right hand man Zampano (Soo Hyun Kim), smooth-talking beautiful thief Yenicall (Gianna Jun), and Chewingum (Hae-suk Kim), an experienced if poor female thief. As the veteran thief with a checkered past, Yam is a quiet, subtle scene-stealer with his crew including goofy Korean-Chinese thief, Andrew (Dal-su Oh), young Johnny (Kwok Cheung Tsang) and safecracker Julie (Angelica Lee). Rounding out the team is Pepsee (Hye-su Kim), another safecracker who's worked with Popeye and Macao Park before.
I was a little skeptical going in that with so many characters too many would get the short end of the stick. Choi does a great job keeping things balanced among all these characters with all their separate backstories and history. They each have their own personal style and look on top of their individual personality quirks. What brings it up a notch as a script, story and film is how it develops. It surprisingly keeps us guessing. We think we feel one way about a certain character, and then get hit with a twist, then another, and then another. With each passing twist, what we thought we know gets thrown out the window. And don't be fooled, there's twists galore right through the final scene.
'Thieves' is a rather leisurely 136 minutes and takes its time developing. It lays everything out nicely, setting up the characters and the coming heist. The highlight is not surprisingly the actual heist and the fallout. That's no spoilers if you're curious. It's the rare heist flick that goes smoothly. It is there where the twists get thrown at us. Just a good movie, and more proof scrounging for movies on Netflix and IMDB is worth the time spent.
The Thieves (2012): *** 1/2 /****