A group of korean-based criminals plan their biggest heist yet, a high profile casino in Macau (China). This fish out of water scenario is only the beginning of their complications however.
Not What We Expected
Writer/director Dong-Hoon Choi returns to his passion for crime films, having recently directed the time-travel comedy actioner Jeon Woo-chi. He carries over the comedic tone into this film about a mostly functional band of burglars who after barely getting away with their latest job decide to move their game out of town and out of the watchful eyes of the local police.
This quirky Korean bunch set their sights on something quite ambitious as they reluctantly team up with a new group that’s more familiar with the new location. That’s when things get really interesting.
Thieves…has quite a large cast to deal with and thankfully Choi handles them well. Some characters necessarily get more screen time overall, but each actor/actress manages to get a moment or two to shine. Each of the characters is well defined and has their own reason for being where they are. The only real commonality between the characters is that they’re universally uncouth.
By the end of the film, you come away fairly convinced that each of them deserves any jail time they get, but this isn’t to suggest that they’re unlikable or even black and white bad. Unlike your run-of-the-mill Hollywood fair, however, the criminals here aren’t hiding a heart of gold. They’re what the label says; they are criminals. They do bad things because they can and because they have a different set of moral values from regular folks.
Crime Is Crime Is Crime
Thieves…handles itself well in the action department. The job (taking place in Korea) that opens the film has a lot of levity to it, as well as a series of action pieces that are well staged and shot. The Macau casino house ups the complexity and drops the emotional tone. In Korea the worst case is to be arrested, in Macau it’s death. The writing and direction nicely convey the striking transition from a situation where these reckless few could get away with being sloppy and into their new circumstances where a small mistake could and will get some of them killed.
The Korean team’s move to Macau isn’t just a simple change of location. They’re working in the big leagues now and whereas they could get away with not considering possible violence, in China they learn very quickly that being cocky will have you eating the barrel of a gun.
That’s the Good News
Thieves…does have it’s share of missteps, however. I mentioned earlier the sharp turn in tone between the scenes that take place in Korea and then what happens when the team go to China. There’s some getting used to with that sure, but I think most viewers will be able to adjust. I think it’s largely effective.
What’s a little harder to get over is that certain characters change their tones at different points in the film. From comedy to serious to comedy again and it’s not in a graceful or event logical way. I would describe it as borderline schizophrenic. I believe the director was probably going for dark comedy with these moves, but it’s largely unsuccessful. If you were to compare this to filmmakers that do dark comedy correctly, namely the Coen brothers, you’ll find that although “funny” stuff happens through their films the characters themselves remain consistent. They have their own internal rules of behavior and any changes that might occur are as a result of outward interaction and not new behaviors that originate from within. This is not what happens in Thieves. Characters show behaviors that are inconsistent with their normal behavior and it’s off putting and blind siding.
Now, thankfully this was the only criticism I have against this film, but I came away from the film with some disappointment. There are some great non-Hollywood moments here which make the film worth watching just for that refreshing POV, but whether Hollywood or foreign cinema — there are just some things that hamper good storytelling.
B+ grade for Exciting Action and Criminal Behavior
B- grade for Overall Direction
C+ grade for Character Development
Overall a B- grade for a good effort and in the end a recommended film, provided you know what pitfalls you might encounter.