aka 도둑들 aka Dodukdeul
Written by Choi Dong-Hoon and Lee Gi-cheol
Directed by Choi Dong-Hoon
Crosses, double-crosses, and triple-crosses in the midst of teamwork is the template of The Thieves. Not only is there a group of thieves who are all looking out for themselves while planning a heist, but there are TWO groups of thieves working together (and trusting no one) while working each other and planning bigger plots. This is the kind of film a flow chart would help, but it’s designed so well that things rarely get confusing. The various characters are fleshed out and the backstabbing becomes more personal. It helps that The Thieves is not a short movie, but it keeps the game going even after the heist and the eventual fallout. Things become really deadly, and the question of who will live, who will win, and who will die will be answered.
Sprawling across much of Asia, from Korea to Hong Kong to Macau, The Thieves sports an impressive cast of faces and names that will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in Asian cinema. The Thieves manages to build on the concept of the Ocean’s 11 film (which is the obvious starting point of comparison due to the heist and big cast angles) while instead being more about the twists and turns and secret motives of the various participants in the crime. The big score, while a central action piece, is nothing but a stepping stone for one character’s true motivation. And everything revolves around his eventual plan, that doesn’t go according to plan at all.
Partnerships are forged by desperation and motive, but easily fall apart as soon as the winds change. Some characters are more loyal than others, and some betrayals are clear from the start. The con artists will each try to stack the deck in their favor, and the fun is watching how everything plays out. So let’s deal…
Popeye’s crew is looking to escape the attention of the police after their latest job, and joining up on a score in a whole different country is a good way to do that. So off to meet up with Popeye’s former boss, Macau Park, and join his crew on a larger mission to steal a previously stolen jewel from a thief in a casino in Macau.
Popeye even brought in his recently released teammate Pepsi (and his former crush, who was previously with Macau until things went bad on a job. You know how these things happen.) Each team is filled with distrust for the other, while Popeye and Macau can barely stand each other due to their prior history.
Despite a bunch of planning and set up, the heist soon turns to chaos. Through the action, team members fall, get captured, betray each other, and fall to shambles. The remainder gather up and through that find out the next setup, which escalates the danger as the whole jewel theft was just an excuse for a character to get close to someone for revenge, someone who doesn’t take too kindly to people trying to get revenge on him.
The huge cast helps give some Hong Kong actors a chance to pop in as supporting characters. Simon Yam is a welcome sight in any film, and here, as an older down-on-his-luck thief looking for a way to get out and making a connection with Chewing Gum, is some of his finest work. Angelica Lee gives a great performance as Julie, the daughter of a safecracker who is really an undercover cop and dealing with the strain of maintaining fake relationships with real ones. Jeon Ji-hyun is delightful as the always swindling Yanicall, whose every word and action is hypnotic poison as she works her way through life for her alone. Oh Dal-soo is the Korean-Chinese Andrew, who at first looks like a peripheral joke character, but his ability to both live and escape helps turn him into a major asset.
The interactions between all the players is the bread and butter of The Thieves. Without the web of scheming, the theft and action would have less bite. The drama in the teams ramps up the danger and excitement, as the mystery unfolds as to just who will walk away with the score and who won’t be able to walk at all in the end. Many of the greatest theft films succeed because of the interpersonal dynamics of the cast of characters, the brilliance of their con is just icing on a delicious cake.
The right mix in The Thieves helped propel it to be one of Korea’s biggest box office hits of all time. It’s also a great way to introduce people to Korean cinema, especially those scared off by dark revenge films or depressing dramas. The largest drawback is the time you’ll need to dedicate, as well as a few betrayals that are more predictable than others. But beyond those flaws, The Thieves stands tall as a great cinematic outing.
Rated 8/10 (smoking, logo, Chewing Gum, Simon Yam, Oh Dai-soo, target, light, shield)
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