Patchy Korean heist flick with an overly large cast but some impressive action set-pieces
Korean writer/director Choi Dong-Hoon follows up previous efforts The Big Swindle and Tazza: The High Rollers with another crime caper aiming to be the Eastern equivalent of Ocean’s Eleven. Unfortunately, The Thieves comes in rather below those slick expectations, feeling more like the Eastern equivalent of … well, Ocean’s Twelve or Thirteen.
The story focuses on two heist crews (one Korean, one Chinese) brought together by the mysterious Macao Park (Yun-seok Kim) to steal a jewel from a highly guarded casino. As mistakes, rivalries and romantic bonds give rise to one betrayal after another, the ensemble are brought together and torn apart by both greed and the need to survive.
Dong-Hoon attempts to emulate Soderbergh’s success by giving each crim a bit of backstory, but only Park, cat burglar Yenicall (Gianna Jun) and recently paroled safecracker Pepsi (Hye-Su Kim) really stick. The squabbles between the remaining thieves are a confusing blur: several of the factions can't understand each other and unless you have a good ear for the differences between Korean, Chinese and Japanese dialects, these plot subtleties are hard to pick up.
The film picks up in the second half, when the hefty cast list is streamlined by death or capture, and there are some great set-pieces including a three-way abseiling shoot-out. As it is, the film is in dire need of a keen editor, and perhaps some clearer subtitling.
The Thieves is showing at Cineworld Renfrew Street, Glasgow, Wed 20 & Thu 21 Feb, as part of Glasgow Film Festival.