Well Go USA // 2012 // 136 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 7th, 2013
All for the money. One for revenge. Every man for himself.
The Thieves, second highest-grossing movie in the history of Korea's box office (it currently sits only behind The Host), is the kind of movie that bends over backwards to entertain. Packed with a huge cast of some of Korea's most popular actors, a relentlessly twist plot and slick, stylish direction, the movie has everything going for it. It doesn't always work as well as it should considering its pedigree, but it's still a lot of fun.
After a couple of jobs go bad, two teams of thieves (some Chinese, some Korean) come together to steal the $30 million Tear of the Sun diamond under the leadership of master thief Macau Park (Kim Yoon-seok, The Chaser). There's the fake mother/daughter team of Chewing Gum (Kim Hae-sook, Thirst), an alcoholic actress who specializes in "character" parts; the beautiful pickpocket Yanicall (Jun Ji-hyun, My Sassy Girl, surely one of the most gorgeous women in the world); short-tempered team leader Popeye (Lee Jung-jae, Over the Rainbow) and paroled safecracker Pepsi (Kim Hye-soo, Three). Unfortunately, it slowly becomes apparent that everyone on the team has his or her own agenda -- including one thief with plans to sell the diamond to murderous gangster Wei Hong (Ki Gook-seo).
The movie is broken up into three major acts: 1) the assembling of the crew and planning for the Big Job, 2) pulling off the Big Job and 3) the fallout, in which characters reveal their true motivations and double cross one another while trying to get away. That means that The Thieves begins as a bouncy caper film, morphs into a "no honor among thieves" crime drama and eventually becomes a full-blown action movie, with incredible sequences in which characters chase and fight each other while dangling from a high rise. All three acts work individually, even if they don't always sit comfortably beside one another. The film is breathlessly edited together, though, and while it's a little padded at over two hours, it moves so quickly that it rarely feels as long as it really is.
Lest anyone think that The Thieves is just the Korean Ocean's Eleven or a feature-length version of the TNT show Leverage, it's not. Yes, there are similarities, but the movie goes darker than comparable American versions of the similar story have been willing to go. The Thieves has real danger, especially as the aftermath of the heist unfolds. Not every character in the movie makes it to the end. It's somewhat jarring, actually, once the gunfire starts, because it hasn't been that kind of movie until that point. If there are flaws in The Thieves, it's that the tonal shifts aren't always handled very delicately and that it's difficult to invest in any of the characters. That's not the same as "liking" the characters -- it's not mandatory that we "like" every movie character, particularly in a movie about criminals -- but because we don't get to spend a ton of time with any one person and because we never know what a person's true intentions are, we can't allow ourselves to care. Once the characters start turning on one another, there's no one left to root for.
The Thieves comes to DVD courtesy of Well Go USA in an attractive but few-frills package. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 playback, and looks very good; black levels are solid throughout, contrast is strong and the film's very deliberate and limited uses of color really pop. It's probably not as good looking as the Blu-ray (which is also available), but for a standard definition DVD, it's an excellent presentation. The 5.1 audio track (in Korean with English subtitles) gets the job done, with clear dialogue and a lot of good action effects -- particularly in the last third, when guns start getting fired and glass begins to break. It packs enough of a punch to work.
Unfortunately, the bonus feature department is pretty anemic. Aside from the movie's original trailer, only a pair of featurettes have been included: the first is a standard making-of piece that runs just over five minutes and covers how some of the bigger set pieces are staged, and the second, "Meet the Thieves," gives a quick overview of most of the main characters. Neither really adds to any enjoyment or deeper understanding of the movie. Their only saving grace is that they are short.
I can't quite wrap my head around the success of The Thieves. With the kind of daring, intense cinema coming out of Korea these days, it doesn't quite stack up against the best the country has to offer. It is very entertaining, though, and while it's not the kind of movie that demands a lot of repeat viewing, it's pretty good as heist films go. If nothing else, it's two hours in the company of Jun Ji-hyun. There are worse ways to spend an evening.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Korean)
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated