Steal It If You Can (2002)
Director: Im Kyung-Soo
Writers: Yun Je-gyun
Starring: Park Sang-Myeon, So Ji-seob and Song Seon-mi

The Plot: Sang-Tae is a lowly government employee who married into a rich family. Although everything seems to be going great for him, appearances are most assuredly deceiving. Despite his huge television, his beautiful home, his wonderful children and his gorgeous wife, upon examination all things show cracks underneath the surface. His wife’s hobby is cooking, but since she was born without the ability to taste she consistently makes awful meals that he is forced to endure. His children are more concerned with their own affairs and Sang-tae feels antiquated in their modern home. Things are about to get interesting however, as Gang-jo has decided that Sang-tae will be his next home to burglarize! You see, Gang-jo is a famous software developer who has a string of successful video games under his belt. He has a litany of special interests and hobbies, but his biggest secret is his love affair with burglary. He routinely breaks into homes and businesses in order to get the rush that he so desires. When he burglarizes Sang-tae’s home, he soon discovers Sang-tae’s wife’s cooking… and he absolutely loves it! With Sang-tae looking like even less of a man in front of his wife and children, he is forced to find a way to put a stop to this burglar and finally prove himself in front of his family!

The Review
For the 1st annual Korean cinema blogathon, I decided to throw my hat into the ring and expand my current knowledge level by tackling several South Korean films that I had lying around. After finally finishing Sex is Zero (for review on the VCinema Web Blog), I once again proudly proclaimed my weakness for South Korean comedies. One might refer to it as a guilty pleasure, but as I just mentioned, I am proud of this difference. I have a soft spot for South Korean romantic comedies in particular, and this is coming from a guy who absolutely despises modern Hollywood films that are made in a similar same vein. I thought that after having a really great time with Sex is Zero I would be able to take solace in my 100% success rate so far with the South Korean comedic market. However, no market-place is perfect and no film genre in any country is going to be perfect, so thus Steal It If You Can exists as a reminder of this horrifying fact.

Similar to many South Korean films I have seen from the time, Steal It If You Can has a unique focus on style and incredibly fast visual turns. The opening for the film displays this particularly well. The hyper-kinetic twists and turns within a very quick montage that shows our leading antagonist’s (an antagonist of sorts, at least) unique hobbies takes the film into nearly surreal terms of pacing. There’s no way the film could possibly live up to these speeds once the montage is over. It does ultimately try to keep that same pace moving as the narrative chugs along, but the problem doesn’t come from any kind of pacing issues. Due to the rather silly content, the excessive use of digital effects and the stylish flourishes that texture the film, this movie can’t help but have a breezy pace. However, that does not equate to being a good movie. I will admit that it’s nice to watch a Korean film that doesn’t manage to top the 120 minute mark, but even if this movie were only 60 minutes in length the problems would still far outshine the technical merits that make it as watchable as it is.

Hackneyed doesn’t begin to describe the comedy that absolutely dominates Steal It If You Can. Although this is almost equally as hackneyed to use in terms of film criticism, I have to remind the audience at this point that comedy is the most subjective of all genres in cinema. What leaves one audience in stitches within one market place may be considered trivial and boring within another. So, perhaps this is all just a case of one culture having very different ideas of what makes for perfected comedy. As much as I would like to believe that, there are many brilliant South Korean films out there that I can list out that are amazingly creative in delivering new and hilarious ideas within the world of comedy. The best way I can think to describe Steal It If You Can is that it is utterly bankrupt in terms of comedic ideas. I can only laugh at the same old jokes so many times, and Steal It If You Can takes joy in repeating cheap jokes without any form of wit or intelligence behind their meaning. A “favorite” sequence of mine revolves around the character of Sang-Tae as he begins to take martial arts lessons in an attempt to take on the burglar Gang-jo. The martial arts teacher, through a series of HILARIOUS demonstrations, shows us that his particular martial art is concentrated on punching and kicking men in their testicles! Oh the hilarity! Oh, but what is one to do if they are attacked by a woman? Well, where is a woman’s “vital point?” The answer is simple! Their nipples! The teacher then shows Sang-tae the art of the “purple nurple.” These “jokes” are followed by yet another head scratching question, what happens if you are attacked by someone who is gay? Why this changes anything, as far as vital points goes, I can not explain. All I can tell you is that a gay man’s “vital point” is apparently located within his rectum and the teacher then demonstrates how to hurt a “gay” by poking Sang-tae in his buttocks with two folded fingers. Sure, this is absolutely offensive due to its bizarre jab at gay men as being somehow different biologically than straight men, but the most offensive aspect of this scene is how utterly stupid, idiotic and terribly unfunny it is.

Although there are flashes of style throughout the film, for the most part the movie is shot in a very plain and ordinary fashion. This is perhaps a strange analogy, but I felt as if the movie began to feel like a Disney channel made for TV movie as it moved along. All of the characters are incredibly over the top in terms of their mugging, and the very ordinary lighting simply illuminates the scenes but adds no texture. The movie has moments of genius, where we see the technical wizardry of the talented crew come out, but for the most part the movie looks so bland that it is hard to think of it as anything but elementary. While the opening montage and the occasional flash in the pan displays of style do keep us hooked while watching, the dreaded “comedy” and bland characterization sink the movie deeper and deeper into a quagmire that it cannot escape.

The Conclusion
What else is there for me to say about Steal It If You Can? I am ultimately giving the movie a two out of five and believe me, those two points are debatable. I give the movie this high of a rating primarily for its interesting visual flourishes. Although they are sporadic to say the very least, at least there is something here to keep you going during the decently paced run-time. Overall, I can’t say I recommend this one. However, that’s why we watch these movies isn’t it?