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Dong-hoon Choi’s “The Thieves” successfully revisits the heist genre that first brought him to fame. This time around, the production uses an ensemble cast of established, young and veteran actors from Korea and Hong Kong who all bring their “A” game and then some. Using the heist as a backdrop, the film weaves in a couple of love stories, a double cross, a triple cross or two and some good old fashion revenge to keep things interesting.
“The Thieves” is about two rival teams of con men/women who come together when Macao Park, the mastermind, dangles an irresistible $20 million pay day. Though the comparisons can seem obvious, this is not “Ocean’s Eleven” or “The Italian Job.” The men and women in this film do not come together to help an old friend or right a wrong. They are here to get rich and if. This is more in line with “City on Fire,” or Tarantino’s remake of it – Reservoir Dogs. When shit hits the fan, it’s every man, woman and dog for themselves.
There is a great deal of craftsmanship in Choi’s filmmaking. Like other great directors, Choi smartly brought back his collaborators from his previous projects. The result is a very taut and stylish while not being overly stylized, and an extremely tight paced movie that, despite its 135 minute running time, is never dull. The action set pieces are adrenaline fueled and precisely executed. Hollywood should come calling on Choi and get him to bring his team along for the ride.
This film is built around an ensemble cast, but since it is a Korean production, the Korean team is a bit more fleshed out. Jung-jae Lee plays Popie, the Korean team’s leader. Lee plays him convincingly slick and friendly while oozing sleaze out of every smile. Pepsee (Hye-soo Kim) and Yenical (Gianna Jun) provide the eye candy on the Korean side of the border. Hye-soo Kim gives a weighty and nuanced performance as the more mature of the two female rivals and the team’s safecracker. She moves from love, then betrayal and finally to steely resolution with just her eyes and the slightest turn of her lips. On the other hand, Gianna Jun gives a nice pouty performance that’s both sexy and fun. Her character Yenicall is all legs, big eyes, long flowing hair and she uses these assets expertly as the team’s ambitious wire specialist.
There are two outstanding performances in this film. The first comes from Hae-sook Kim. She is an extremely deft actress, adding gravitas and soul to her character Chewingum. Simon Yam gives us the second memorable performance as Chen, the leader of the Hong Kong outfit with nerves of steel. Chewingum and Chen work as husband and wife high rollers who unexpectedly make a connection during the job. The dynamic between these two actors feels tangibly real. Because of this, their final violent and chaotic scene together (beautifully shot in slow motion) is a poignant moment of enlightenment. There might have been a small hint of moisture in the corner of my eyes.
The art direction and photography is amazing. Choi and his director of photography, Young-hwan Choi created a film that looks and feels like a studio fashion shoot. Using a balanced approach with high key lighting and rich, but not overly saturated colors, they deliver a film that looks as fresh and hot as the actors. An interesting side note to film is the clothing. Everyone is impeccably dressed, except for some reason, the film’s main character, Macao Park. The last film where the clothing really made an impression on me was “Layer Cake”.
“The Thieves” opens nationwide October 12th. Check your local listings.
Dong-Hoon Choi (director) / Dong-Hoon Choi, Lee Gi-Cheol (screenplay)
CAST: Gianna Jun … Yenicall
Hae-suk Kim … Chewingum
Hye-su Kim … Pepsi
Soo Hyun Kim … Zampano
Yun-seok Kim … Macau Park
Angelica Lee … Julie
Jung-Jae Lee … Popeye
Dal-su Oh … Andrew