International Film #1: The Thieves (South Korea)

The first addition of a column I’ll continue on through my travels and when I settle for awhile (eventually). I cannot say that I am either a film buff nor a critic, but I can counter by saying that I have viewed hundreds of films from various eras and countries and know what I like and not so much. Thus my reviews may be a bit biased, but a critique should be subjective, no? Let’s just leave it at that. My first installment finds me in the Kowloon area in Hong Kong in the Broadway Cinematheque Theater 2. -JGrez

Who doesn’t like a good heist movie, right? I mean there have been some classics in the day(s). Heat, The Sting, Dog Day Afternoon, The Bank Job, Reservoir Dogs and of course the Ocean’s Trilogy (but for me it’s still the remake of Ocean’s 11). The suspense, drama, love interest and (sometimes dark) comedy. It’s the intrigue of it. And if done right with crafty character development and an enticing back story, well you’ll make some money.

And that’s what director Choi Dong-hun has done in his fourth major motion picture release The Thieves. In six weeks after it’s release in South Korean the film has grossed $12.31 million USD. That’s good for the second highest grossing movie in Korean history…in six weeks. Now with releases in Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada (at the Toronto International Film Festival), that number may surpass The Host as the largest grossing Korean film of all-time. Maybe little in regards to American standards but huge for the developing film industry in Korea and the East in general. But Choi is no stranger to top grossing Korean films as he had two other in the top 20 before this release: Woochi and Tazza: The High Rollers (another crime thriller set in South Korea).

So Choi has some background in the criminal business, well the movie end of it anyway. It shows in The Thieves. With the majority of the movie set in Hong Kong and Macau, the backdrop is as you would suspect high rises, casinos and back alley hideouts. Macao Park (Kim Yun-Seok) is a master thief in hiding for 4 years after a 68kg gold heist with Pepsee (Kim Hye-Soo) and Popie (Lee Jung-Jae) went wrong. Pepsee ended up doing time because of this heist and Park got away with the gold but not after a nasty fall through an elevator chute.   In order to let things cool down from their latest heist, Popie (pronounced Popeye) and his current group of thieves decide to take a job in Macau with Park. Park brought Chinese thieves as well but little did they know what he had planned for each one of them. His plan takes an unexpected turn though when Popie brings Pepsee, who BTW is a genius safe-cracker and old flame of Macao Park, to settle the old score. The thieves’ target is a $20 million diamond necklace known as ‘Tear of the Sun’, kept safely away in a casino (but not by the casino), brought there to be sold by a notorious Chinese fence. While working together to steal this fabled diamond, they all have their own agenda to keep the diamond for themselves.

Macao Park manages to get everyone in the same room and on the same page as some natural angst between Asian nationalities exists. Choi does a brilliant job of touching on this in a light jovial manner in this first meeting of the team. That is another genius of this movie – the cross national Asian reach. A majority of the of the movie is indeed in Korean (with Chinese and English subtitles) but four languages are spoken at some point throughout the movie: Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Choi incorporates them all seamlessly.

The history behind the ‘Tear of the Sun’ goes deeper then just the heist at hand. It had been stolen before by one of the Hong Kong members of the team, Chen (Simon Yam) from Chinese master boss Wei Hong (Ki Guk-Seo) and sold back to Hong, only to to be stolen from Hong again before this current crews goes after it. Throw in an undercover Hong Kong officer Juile (Angelica Lee) on the team only because of her father’s history and you can see how this story will move in a number of directions.

Terrific action sequences in Busan and Macau and golden cinematography in the boat scenes in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor. Yeah, granted it has that Ocean’s 11‘s feel, but it has a Reservoir Dogs feel and a for that matter a hustle Sting feel to it. And that is what Choi has so skillfully crafted, an action heist where he is walking away with the money rightfully.

Joe Grez

Joe Grez

Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is still an artist developer trying to keep up with new technologies. Photography still has been one of his strongest passions. However, now his main focus has led him back to music where he teaches guitar, piano, saxophone and percussion privately. Music education can never be short changed.

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