“Twilight Gangsters” (also released as “Revolver Gangster Gang”) is a crime comedy which features three of the most unlikely bank robbers ever in the form of veteran Korean actresses Kim Hye Ok (“My Dear Enemy”), Na Moon Hee (“Mission Possible: Kidnapping Granny K”), and Kim Soo Mi (“Marrying the Mafia 2”). A remake of the 2000 German production “Now or Never”, the film was directed by Kang Ho Jin, who previously challenged gender roles with the fighting housewife drama “Punch Lady”. Thankfully, the film is far more entertaining than it’s potentially cringe worthy concept might suggest, and is a surprisingly engaging mixture of laughs and excitement.
The film follows Jung Ja (Na Moon Hee), Young Hee (Kim Soo Mi), and Shin Ja (Kim Hye Ok), three grandmothers who have all fallen on difficult times due variously to uncaring children, financial troubles and ill health. To keep them going, the three have long been dreaming of a luxury holiday to Hawaii, which they have mostly funded through stealing goods from supermarkets and selling them at reduced prices to their fellow old folks. Sadly, when they go to the bank to pay for their trip, they fall foul of a holdup, and lose everything. After the police fail to help, they manage to track down one of the robbers (Lim Chang Jung, “Fortune Salon”) themselves, only to discover that he too has been conned, and that their money is long gone. Desperate to reclaim their loss and with the deadline for their trip looming, the women decide to come up with a heist scheme of their own.
Although the premise of “Twilight Gangsters” conjures rather depressing images of the elderly ladies acting inappropriately hip and cavorting around while showing youngsters how things should be done, the film wisely treats its protagonists with a measure of dignity despite its more comedic elements. As a result, the three come across as proper characters rather than just figures of fun, and the heist plot and their plight in general are far more engaging than they would have been if played solely for laughs. The three are all fully fleshed out and given their own motivations for wanting to push forward with the robbery plan, and the film pays a reasonable amount of attention to the changing dynamic of their group and their friendships as things progress. The three actresses are all good matches for their characters and the material, and turn in good performances, with Na Moon Hee playing slightly against type and less shrill than in other recent outings.
The film also benefits from having a distinctly cynical edge, showing a distrust of the police and authority figures, and pulling no punches as it moves towards its surprisingly downbeat, realistic, and ultimately affecting conclusion. Perhaps inevitably, there are a fair few tugs at the heartstrings during the latter stages, though since these are reasonably hard won and never dwelt upon to excessive length, they are generally forgivable. Similarly, although the film could have used some trimming, not least since the viewer knows from early on that the robbery is coming, it picks up the pace before things ever get too dull.
Such a balance between humour and drama is notoriously difficult to pull off, though director Kang just about achieves it, mainly by not pushing too far in either direction and neither going for all out slapstick or visceral thrills. Whilst this does mean that the film at times has a somewhat middle of the road feel, in particular during its rather meandering middle section, it generally shows the sense to be funny and exciting as required. The film remains grounded throughout, alternately playing upon and using the relative frailties of its protagonists to generate laughs and tension, and this works well during the final act when the heist inevitably goes wrong. The film never actually gets violent or too action packed, though it does manage a few chase scenes and fights, and this helps to give it a few welcome shots in the arm.
“Twilight Gangsters” really is a much better film than expected, and one of the few to employ elderly protagonists without either making them either depressingly maudlin or wacky in a gratingly forced manner. The film works both as a comedy and an offbeat thriller, and is different enough from other recent genre entries to stand out from the crowd, at least for viewers willing to keep an open mind and accept its elderly would-be criminals.
Kang Hyo-jin (director), Kang Hyo-jin (screenplay)
CAST: Na Moon Hee … Jung Ja
Kim Soo Mi … Young Hee
Kim Hye Ok … Shin Ja