aka 암살 aka Amsal 2015 Written by Choi Dong-hoon and Lee Ki-cheol
Directed by Choi Dong-hoon
Despite the years of ups and downs, South Korea cinema continues to deliver great films, even if it isn’t at the breakneck pace that it once had. And deliver Assassination does, giving us a great wartime espionage tale with a core group of interesting players to follow. Characters battle and scheme, motivated by their honor, for some the honor of appearing strong and powerful more alluring than the actuality.
Assassination wins not because of the action sequences of the story of a ragtag group of unlikely heroes battling against a gigantic evil Empire, but because of the scenes of characters interacting. A heroic sniper, bounty hunters with consciences, and traitors that put their own power above their nation and peoples’ survival battling it out is well and good, but I’m going to remember Ahn Ok-yun sitting in a diner next to Hawaii Pistol where they concoct a fantasy of being a couple in order to evade detection by the Japanese army. Or Hawaii Pistol recounting how he killed his own father and wanting to spare Ahn Ok-yun the same fate. Or a traitor wiping out anyone who threatens to expose him because of he doesn’t want to die. The little bits in the larger whole where characters switch from the stereotypes you think they are to fully fleshed out beings.
Assassination spins its web of spies and intrigue before setting up the next big action scene that causes the surviving players to shuffle around and prepare for the next web. Choi Dong-hoon was best known for his heist films, including the international hit The Thieves, and while Assassination is a different genre, it still has the large cast and multiple story angles all coming together. It even follows some of the same story beats, with a mid-movie action sequence (or heist) that everything was working up towards, but it turns out it was just the beginning of the second half of the film with a smaller but larger staked sequence to follow. Continue reading →
aka 도둑들 aka Dodukdeul 2012 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 (Lee Jung-jae) – A local boss of a theft ring who gets his crew attached to a potential big score, but has his own motivations for becoming involved.
Macau Park (Kim Yoon-seok) – A bigger boss who used to work with Popeye and now runs a crew based out of Hong Kong, he gets Popeye involved in a huge score.
Pepsi (Kim Hye-soo) – A safecracker fresh out of jail, was part of Popeye’s crew and is welcomed in again just as they head off to their mission, breeding mistrust as some members don’t know her at all, and others had previous relationships.
Yanicall (Jeon Ji-hyun) – A swindler and con artist who uses her beauty to separate rich men from their money. Immediately doesn’t like Pepsi. Has a sort of mother/daughter relationship with Chewing Gum.