The Thieves (2012)
Director: Choi Dong-hun
Writers: Choi Dong-hun and Lee Gi-cheol
Starring: Kim Yoon-seok, Lee Jung-jae, Kim Hye-soo, and Gianna Jun

The Plot: Our film begins with an adventurous heist that shows middle-aged conwoman Chewing Gum (Kim Hae-sook) posing alongside the sexy cat burglar Yanicall (Gianna Jun) as a mother/daughter duo in hopes to rob a private art gallery owned by a young businessman. These two accomplish their goals, and along with their team leader Popeye (Lee Jung-jae) this team shows that they work very well together, despite their quirks. Further away from our team in South Korea, we are introduced to Hong Kong thief Chen (Simon Yam) and his partners Johnny (Derek Tsang) and Korean-Chinese Andrew (Oh Dal-soo). This group, who seem to be just as peculiar as Popeye’s strange collection of characters, are planning to join ranks with the Korean thief known as Macau Park (Kim Yoon-seok). Park has a huge Casino robbery planned, and at the same time that Macau brings in the Hong Kong gang, he also grabs Popeye and his associates. Unfortunately, this is where things become complicated for all involved. Popeye used to work for Macau, and he, along with his girlfriend (who used to be Macau’s girlfriend), will all three be working together on the biggest heist of their lives. Will everything come together or will this strange alliance fall apart?

The Review
Asian cinema within the West is a genre with very limited exposure. Indeed, it’s an area of cinema that has a very low glass ceiling. Films such as Old Boy and The Host are movies that have grown to become about as big as the Western world will allow them to be. With that said, those movies are still pretty huge. Old Boy, in particular, has had a huge impact on hipster and geek culture. It has reached a level of success that borders on being considered mainstream, which is about as high as Asian cinema gets. With that said, there are certain aspects that can tie together an Asian blockbuster, but it seems to have something to do with films that certainly have a Westernized approach to storytelling. With Old Boy there was its twisted narrative and swerve ending, and The Host is pretty obvious in its influences (aside from Japanese Kaiju movies). These films have much in common with contemporary Hollywood cinema, as they grab the audience with gimmicks and tell their stories in very structured ways, but they provide a twist on cultural expectations and that makes them all the more intriguing to Western viewers. Although The Thieves has developed a bit of a reputation recently, it surprisingly hasn’t hit the previously mentioned glass ceiling just yet. Given a little time that could change, because The Thieves is a polished, entertaining, and outrageous piece of Asian cinema that brings together all of the elements that make a “classic.”

As Christopher Nolan has said, “In the heist genre, exposition is entertainment.” It truly is one of the few genres where a filmmaker can talk directly to the audience and explain everything to them and still keep them glued to their seat. Still, that doesn’t guarantee that every heist movie is going to work or that exposition is always a blast. I love a good heist flick, but to be honest I have hated the Oceans Eleven series. I always felt that the characters were too smug and self indulgent and thus I rarely had doubts about their inevitable success. I prefer a heist where we have trust in our leads, but realize that they are mortal. Ultimately, we come to understand that their goals are probably unattainable. This gives rise to a considerable amount of drama and I think this is the heart of what makes so many of the better heist movies actually work. Thankfully, The Thieves gets this, and although our characters are brilliant at what they do, the doses of broad humor and overt silliness ensures that we know this group are more of a motley crew than an unstoppable force. So, with the proper establishment and the right cast in place, I could immediately tell I was going to enjoy The Thieves within the first twenty minutes. The film begins by showing our team in the process of pulling off one hell of a daring heist. The sequence involves zip-lines, characters repelling down the side of a building, amazing stunts, and precise timing. Yet, the sequence also ends with Gianna Jun nearly exposing the entire ordeal by slipping back into a disguise right in front of the mark. Such quirky misadventures are par for the course within The Thieves, but the mixture of off-kilter comedy and brutal drama guarantees a dose of originality.

There are two things that you can often count on when dealing with modern South Korean cinema. I mean this with no ill will, but those things are A) convoluted plots and B) excessively long running times. While the convoluted plots aren’t always guaranteed, when you sit down to watch a South Korean film you had better have at least two hours set aside. As far as these overly intricate plots go, this is the nature of the beast when it comes to heist movies. So, in that regard, any of these pains that are felt within The Thieves almost seem forgivable in comparison, especially considering the pace of the movie. Truly, despite clocking in at two hours, this movie runs by at a breeze. The entertainment factor is at an alltime high upon each and every turn. From the very humorous characterizations of the cast to the rather ridiculous moments of humorous tension, The Thieves proves to be a classically developed piece of raucous fun. The length of South Korean films is always an issue amongst Asian film fans though. For the record, I am no different. Although I have nothing against a movie running long if it is necessary, but within the SK market even romantic comedies hit the two hour or better mark. Similar to the way that the heist genre calls for a dense plot, The Thieves also generally warrants its length. With all of the various locales, the different cultures being implemented into the script, and the very complicated robberies being unfurled, this is a movie that feels huge. Its time length only accommodates that.

One look at the cast for this movie is enough to appease the wet dreams of any Asian film nerd. Simon Yam apparently wasn’t fulfilled in starring within every Hong Kong movie ever made, so he felt it necessary to invade South Korean cinemas as well. As a big fan, I always welcome seeing his face pop up on the screen. One would imagine his inclusion in this story might seem a little forced, or that his performance would lack because of the converging cultures, but the professionalism of Simon Yam seems to put a halt to that idea. Yam is charismatic and incredibly charming in his role. Although he doesn’t get to shine in a lead, he does manage to light up the screen whenever the camera focuses on him. For me, my favorite member of the cast would have to be Gianna Jun, otherwise known as Jun Ji-hyun the star of My Sassy Girl. Although I can’t think of one cinematic crush that I harbor anymore, I would be hard pressed to say I do not have an infatuation with Jun. Absolutely gorgeous, Jun serves as both the eye candy in this film as well as the person who serves up a lion’s share of the humor. Despite her good looks, Jun is given a rather silly role that she manages to use in order to steal the show. She is often teamed up with the other female member of the crew, the older woman known as Bubblegum, these two are hillarious whenever they share screen time. Supposedly antagonists, these two show a ton of chemistry and their goofy sequences help the first half of the movie pass by exceedingly quick.

The Conclusion
The Thieves isn’t perfect and it isn’t going to amaze every viewer in the same way, but I would be hard-pressed to consider this film to be remotely generic. The Bluray released by Well Go USA is a must own. It’s a piece of Asian cinema that will continually be talked about for years to come. It gets a very high four out of five, so search this one out.