Tuesday, June 30, 2015

SUMMER CAPER: DONG-HOON CHOI'S "THE THIEVES"


Inspired by TCM's "Summer of Darkness," I turned to my favorite South Korean cinema for some quality chills and thrills. What held my interest was a 2012 caper, The Thieves. Pegged as Korea's Ocean's Eleven (2001), The Thieves is everything its Hollywood counterpart should have been, and I say that as a fan of Clooney's Vegas shenanigans.

The Thieves is not a restrictive all-boys club, where women are instrumental only as play things and/or seductresses. They can be that, too, but their skills are no less important than those of the group's male members. Likewise, where Ocean's Eleven was straightforward in its dynamics, loyalties, and the tasks at hand, The Thieves is all about old grudges, betrayals, and mistrust of the ever-expanding crew. There are two groups within the master crew, the Chinese and the Koreans, who come together in spite of initial standoffishness to pull off a grandiose heist in Macao. Yet, within the Korean posse brew deep-seated, duelling rivalries between head honchos Macao Park and Popeye, both of whom feel betrayed by each other for a previous sting gone off script.

All these personalities and character trajectories culminate in a larger than life adventure that can get a little muddy from one thrilling sequence to the next, but one that keeps its eyes on the prize and won't bottom out under the heavy weight of multiple storylines and varying time frames. Fans should recognize plenty of familiar faces from this transnational cast, with a most animated performance by Hong Kong veteran Simon Yam, who looked to be having an absolute blast. And, despite young ladies frolicking about in tight heist gear, his romantic storyline with "Chewing Gum," a lonely, aging woman from the Korean crew, is full of genuine chemistry and wonder.

The film is a contagious ball of energy, with beautiful locations, expertly choreographed action, and enough character development to chew on for those who appreciate meaningful down time between endless chases and explosions. It is very slick, surprisingly humorous, impeccably stylish, and deserving of attention.  The perfect summer caper.

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