The Righteous Thief (2009) Movie Review

“The Righteous Thief” (also known as “Descendants of Hong Gil Dong”) from director Jeong Yong Ki (“Marrying the Mafia III”) is a Korean caper film based upon the exploits of the descendents of a Robin Hood style folk hero of the Joseon era known for robbing the rich and giving to the poor. When translated to modern times, this results in plenty of wacky adventures and slick, “Mission Impossible” style action with popular actor Lee Bum Soo (recently in “Where Is Jung Seung Pil“ and “Lifting King Kong”) as the charismatic rogue who faces off against a couple of eccentric foes played by top comedian Kim Su Ro (“Vampire Cop Ricky” himself) and Sung Dong Il (“Take Off”).

The plot sees Lee Bum Soo as Moo Hyuk, a mild mannered school music teacher. However, he is in fact the 18th generation descendant of legendary thief Hong Gil Dong, and guided by their parents (played by Park In Hwan and Kim Ja Ok), he and his younger brother Chan Hyuk (Jang Ki Beom) lead secret lives stealing from the corrupt rich using a variety of skills and hi-tech gadgetry. Moo Hyuk may have bitten off more than he can chew when he takes on the villainous businessman Lee Jung Min (Kim Su Ro), a vicious man more than his match when it comes to cunning schemes. Just to further complicate matters, he falls in love with Yeon Hwa (actress Lee Si Young, also in “Five Senses of Eros”), whose brother (Sung Dong Il) just happens to be a prosecutor dedicated to taking down him and his family.

As with his previous outings, director Jeong takes fairly broad approach in mixing action and comedy, playing things mostly for laughs though at the same time never neglecting to keep the thrills coming. This works well enough, and the film has the feel of a classic caper, with the general air or silliness and nonsense never undermining what is a reasonably complex and well structured plot. There are just about enough twists and turns along the way to keep the viewer interested, and although not exactly tense, the film is engaging, with Moo Hyuk pulling off some pretty impressive juggling acts as he keeps his two lives separate and his various foes at arms length.

Unsurprisingly, a fair amount of the comedy revolves around mistaken identities and misunderstandings, such as Chan Hyuk attempting to cover up his brother’s nightly activities by telling people that he is gay. Jeong gets a good amount of comic mileage out of this and other similar gags, though thankfully without getting too overburdened with farce. Similarly, although most of the jokes are of the slapstick variety, he shows the good sense never to let any of the characters become too buffoonish. All of the cast certainly seem to have had a lot of fun, and are a likeable bunch, with Lee Bum Soo making for a charismatic, if incompetent protagonist who is easy enough to root for. However, it’s Kim Su Ro who really steals the show, turning in a hilarious deadpan performance as the comic book obsessed villain, mixing in some surprisingly vicious behaviour with the straight faced delivery of most of the film’s best and funniest lines.

The film’s action quotient is pleasingly high, and there are a number of well staged set pieces, most of which show a marked “Mission Impossible” or Bond influence. Lee Bum Soo previously showed he could handle himself in Ryoo Seung Wan’s awesome “The City of Violence”, and he does get a few chances to face off with his enemies. Although hi-octane in places, for the most part the action is fairly harmless stuff, aside from a few genuinely nasty flashes of real harshness from the villains. This works quite well to underpin the whole Robin Hood concept, though it neatly sidesteps any moral issues by being not so much stealing from the rich, as from complete scumbags.

This kind of clear cut divide between the bad guys and the thieving hero ensures that whilst undemanding, “The Righteous Thief” is certainly a lot of fun, and it offers solid popcorn entertainment. Slickly handled and with a great ensemble cast, it manages to combine excitement and laughter and nicely passes a couple of hours in escapist fashion.

Jeong Yong-ki (director) / Park Jeong-woo
CAST: Lee Beom-soo, Kim Soo-ro, Seong Dong-il, Lee Si-yeong, Park In-hwan, Kim Ja-ok

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