on March 3, 2013
[Spoilerless Review] Many viewers will portray the film as a Korean version of 'Ocean's 11'. It is an easy comparison, and at least for the first half of the movie not too far from the truth. However, with three major female characters as part of the heist crew, 'Thieves' is more than just a vehicle for metro-sexual pretty boys trying to recapture brat-pak cool. There is nothing tough or gritty for most of the movie, but for these thieves stealing money always trumps style. The dialog contains many good one liners, but it's not the emphasis of the movie.
But as with many Korean movies (such as 'The Good, the Bad, and the Weird'), there is still an inherent quirkiness to the characters and their delivery. This not a black comedy, but the movie will crack a lot of smiles. Good acting with good chemistry, the "dialog" is good but the movie is not dubbed in English.
Strengths of the movie include some ethnic tension/interplay as Korean, Chinese, and multi-racial characters have to work together in multi-cultural Hong Kong to rob jewels being held within a casino. Aside from the ethnic allegiances, most characters also have a personal history between them that sometimes crosses those cultural lines, making for complex relationships that shift. In fact, you'll likely find yourself rooting for different characters in the first half of the movie than you will in the second. As crew members are captured or killed, who survives to live to see any 'happy ending' changes quickly.
At over two hours the film is to a certain degree almost two movies in one, the first being more of the quirky heist type and the second being more straight up action. The film is not rated, I would peg it at PG-13: lots of shooting with blood, but not excessively gory, some sexual inuendo (and some language), but no nudity. Strong cinemaphotography/picture, good audio/well mixed. Production well on par with movies from the States. Really the only people who won't enjoy the film are those who don't want to read sub-titles.
While the film starts off a little cliche, it quickly evolves with some truly unexpected twists and turns. Not many extras other than a short "making of", trailer, etc. but at this price still a great vallue. Highly entertaining with strong rewatch value. 4 1/2 stars.
Caper flicks have been done before. For the record, the French have had a few solid outings. I've yet to see anything significant from the Russians. The Brits can pull them off with surprising aplomb, as can many other production houses throughout the United Kingdom. I would have to say, though, that the United States has put out the lion's share of the truly memorable ones. I couldn't say why that is exactly; maybe it's that I haven't seen enough foreign imports, or maybe it's just that U.S. production companies have a singular knack for taping into that exceptional mix of action and comedic charm needed to pull it off so winningly.
If THE THIEVES is any indication, then South Korea may be set to give the Americans a good run for their money.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you're the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
Popeye (played by Jung-Jae Lee) and his crew of thieving misfits (among them Hae-suk Kim as Chewingum; and the lovely Gianna Jun as Yenicall) are "hot" ... and not in a good way. Their last job drew the attention of the local police. Now needing to lie low, they agree to take a job with an old friend of Popeye's - the mysterious Macao Park (Yun-seok Kim) - to steal the `Tear of the Sun' diamond, a gem valued at a cool $20 million. The hitch? The diamond is kept in a private safe inside the busiest casino in Macau. However, the complexity of the job requires that they team up with another squad of professional burglars, this one headed by Chen (the reliable Simon Yam). Needless to say, things do go as planned, and, before all is said and done, they'll be running for their lives from the police, one another, and the ruthless ganglord Wei Hong (Ki Guk-Seo)!
I could go on and on with great praise for THE THIEVES, but what's the use? It's the kind of picture that you're either going to see or you're not (many will pass on it solely because it's a foreign release, and they don't know what a delight they're missing). So let me say this: it's a heist picture - a very clever one scripted by Dong-Hoon Choi (as the director) and Lee Gi-Cheol - all built around an ensemble of ten of the most gifted Eastern actors working in cinema today. The U.S. already did this kind of thing (recently) with the OCEAN'S ELEVEN franchise - which had a solid first outing - so THIEVES is, bit by bit, much of the same, but, to my tastes, it's far more witty and inventive due to the fact that there are several overlapping stories at work here. There are crosses and double-crosses, all with a back story involving three of the main characters, and it's an utter joy seeing how it comes together in the grand finish. Suffice it to say, it probably won't be the way audiences predicted; and there's just enough opening left in the conclusion to leave room for a follow-up should all of the players be interested.
Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that THIEVES presently holds the title of the single highest grossing film in Korean history, an honor not all that surprising to this reviewer; it's precisely the kind of crowd-pleasing film audiences flock to again and again. Also, it won the award for Best Supporting Actress (Hae-suk Kim) and was nominated for Best Director (Dong-Hoon Choi) at the 2012 Grand Bell Awards; it won the Audience Award for the Best Narrative Feature at the 2012 Hawaii International Film Festival; and it was nominated for Best Cinematographer, Best Editor, and two Best Supporting Actresses (Gianna Jun AND Hae-suk Kim) at the 2013 Asian Film Awards. So, yes, it's that entertaining!
THE THIEVES is produced by CJ Venture Investment, KM Culture Co., Michigan Venture Capital, and Showbox/Mediaplex. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through the ever-reliable Well Go USA. As for the technical specifications, I watched this on Blu-ray, and it's perfect: the sound is crisp and well-balanced (sometimes an issue with foreign imports), and the images - colors and visuals - are stunning. Plus, there's some magnificently nifty camerawork throughout; no expense was spared in getting this ensemble caper to look good on the silver screen. For the record, this is a Korean language film with English-subtitles (no dubbing, though there are a few scenes spoken in English). As for the special features, please allow me to jump up on my soapbox and complain (once more) than you just couldn't put enough tidbits on here to make me happy; sadly, there are only two - a all-too-brief `making of' short and an even shorter `Meet the Thieves' infomercial - along with the theatrical trailer. Needed more - I know it's difficult - but it needed more.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. Let me say this: there are a few comedic bits that, apparently, don't translate all that well in THE THIEVES. After all, comedy is so very culturally driven, and, in the translation, some of the comic visuals and the dialogue don't work as well as it should for Western audiences (try telling a joke and then butchering the punchline, and you'll get what I mean). Otherwise, THIEVES is an unmitigated home run, the kind of which will probably get an Americanized remake in about five or ten years that'll be far less charming than the original. Rent it now. See it now. You'll be glad you did.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with an advance DVD screener of THE THIEVES for the expressed purposes of completing this review ... and I'm forever indebted to them for making me aware that such a fun piece of unrelenting action came this way from distant shores.
The second highest grossing Korean film in Korean box office history, "Dodookdeul" (The Thieves) will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in Feb. 2013 courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment
Directed by Dong-Hoon Choi ("Whoochi", "Tazza: The High Rollers" and "The Big Swindle") and co written by Choi and Lee Gi-Cheol, the film is known for its all-star cast from Korea and other Asian countries.
The film stars Jeon Ji-hyun/Gianna Jun ("My Sassy Girl", "Il: Mare", "Blood: The Last Vampire", "Windstruck"), Hae-suk Kim ("Wonderful Radio, "Sunflower", "Open City"), Hye-su Kim ("3 Extremes II", "The Red Shoes", "Tazza: The High Rollers"), Soo Hyun Kim, Yun-seok Kim ("The Yellow Sea", "The Chaser", "Woochi"), Angelica Lee ("The Eye", "Re-Cycle", "The Drummer", "20 30 40″), Jung-Jae Lee ("Il Mare", "The Housemaid", "Typhoon", "Sunaebo"), Dal-su Oh ("Oldboy", "The Host", "Thirst", "The Good, the Bad , the Weird"), Kwok Cheung Tsang ("Once a Gangster", "Dream Home") and Simon Yam ("Ip Man", "Ip Man 2″, "Election", "PTU").
The film has been nominated and has won many awards including "Best Cinematography - Choi Young-hwan" (2012 Korean Association of Film Critics Awards, 2012 Buil Film Awards), "Best Supporting Actress" (2012 Grand Bell Awards) and many more.
"The Thieves" is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio). The cinematography by Yeong-hwan Choi is absolutely beautiful and what really works for this film is the multiple locations and countries of where this film was shot. Locations were carefully planned and what you get is a very stylish film. While the outdoor scenes showcase great detail, there is a hint of softness in the indoor scenes but nothing major. I personally didn't catch any artifacts or problems with the overall video, but for the most part, "The Thieves" does look very good on Blu-ray!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"The Thieves" is presented in Korean 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Well, actually while the package says Korean 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, because there are talent from different countries, there are also people talking in Chinese and English as well. But for the most part, the dialogue is crisp and clear and until you get to the final 30-minutes or so of the film, that is when the film becomes much more immersive with gunfire and gun shots going everywhere. So, expect more surround activity towards the second half of the film.
Subtitles are in English and Korean.
"The Thieves " come with the following special features:
Making of - (5:51) Interviews with the cast of "The Thieves" and behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the film.
Meet the Thieves - (4:33) Somewhat of a rehash of what was seen in the "Making Of" but showcasing each cast member talking about their character.
Trailer - (1:38) The theatrical trailer for "The Thieves".
I have watched a good number of Asian films about heists or thievery but not often do you find a film like "The Thieves" where the thievery and action is combined with an intricate story, beautiful cinematography in various locations plus an all-star cast.
I have to admit that prior to watching this film, I was excited to see the reunion of "Il Mare" stars Jyeon Ji-hyun and Jung-Jae Lee. But what captivates to you immediately is how stylish the film looks. You always hear about location is everything and for "The Thieves", just the choice of locations of where to shoot is important as the director Dong-hoon Choi gives cinematographer Yeong-hwan Choi, a chance to capture this blend of high-action reminiscent of "Mission: Impossible" but also a blend of parkour reminiscent of recent James Bond films.
And while the first 15-minutes gives you an idea of what kind of film this will be, it's not until you see the ensemble cast that you start to realize, while it has an "Ocean's Eleven" feel, there is no comparison. While these thieves must work together as a group, they are also backstabbing each other in order.
While you watch this film, you don't know who really to root for as everyone has their own style and technique.
Macau Park (portrayed by Kim Yoon-seok) is the master thief but at the same time, while he may seem as the film's antagonist, there is deep history involving his relationship with Pepsi and Popie that evolves throughout the film, that makes you change your attitude towards him.
Yennicall (portrayed by Jyeo Ji-hyun) is sexy but a mysterious woman that may have the looks and the moves to penetrate a location in order to steal an artifact, but it's her style that tends to make you wonder how far she will go in the film.
Pepsi (portrayed by Kim Hye-soo) is the jilted girlfriend who served timed in prison and is now out. You want to root for her because she is good-natured but at the same time, you try to understand her motivation and how she is integrated in the overall picture of this major heist and where her allegiance is.
Popie (portrayed by Lee Jung-Jae) is the Korean thief that is a leader but also a bit unstable, perhaps always feeling he is in the shadow of Macau Park.
And as you settle in with the Korean crew, then you are introduced to the HK crew and see their motivation. Chen (portrayed by Simon Yam) is not a loud person, he is rather calm but we get to see his motivation of why he is taking part in this job but also his blossoming romance with Chewing Gum (portrayed by Kim Hae-sook), which was rather fun.
You also have Angelica Lee as the undercover cop who is pretending to be part of the thieves in order to catch a notorious Hong Kong thief/fence.
And many more characters that really brings a good balance to the overall film.
And while the film tends to show a lot of thievery through strategy and tactics, the film also incorporates one heck of an action sequence towards the end of the film with bullets galore.
As for the Blu-ray release, picture and audio quality is great, with a few hints of softness in indoor scenes. Audio quality is crisp and clear and also get a few special features include as well. The film looks stylish, the cinematography is great and for the most part, definitely a solid Blu-ray release!
Overall, "The Thieves" is a stylish, action-packed film that I can see why it is one of the best box office films in South Korea, it's that good! Featuring an all-star cast that each compliment the film rather well, it's the balance of a fine-story and action with beautiful cinematography that makes "The Thieves" a must-watch film!
on February 19, 2013
I just watched this movie over the weekend with the wife. I was happy that the movie actually strayed from my Ocean's 11 assumptions going into it. I love Ocean's 11 mind you, but was looking for something that would be more original. This movie was that, definitely some twists on who the villains and good guys are in this movie, as you're watching, you can see where everyone's motivations are and see the situations in different lights.
The Thieves is a heist film that broke the Korean box office in 2012. But I think that had more to do with the all-star casting than with the film itself being a masterpiece in the genre. Don't you twist it now, The Thieves provides awesome thrills and you get into the sprawling cast. Is it original? Hells to the no. The Thieves adheres to the standard heist flick progression of recruitment, planning, execution, and fallout. We expect for there to be twists and backstabbings and hidden alliances and dalliances. These are the essentials in heist cinema. What director Choi Dong-hoon does so right is he executes all these plot beats with superb precision and clarity, with good humor, and a smidge of sleight-of-hand. These heist movies, always trying to trick the audience.
Two thieving crews - one Korean, the other Chinese - to steal a precious diamond. It's the Tear of the Sun, a 318-carat diamond worth $30 million - in the black market, it's worth maybe $20 million. It's stored in an impenetrable vault in a heavily guarded casino in Macau. The two gangs are brought together by secretive mastermind Macau Park (played with infinite cool by Kim Yoon-seok) whose ties with the Korean bunch run particularly deep and festering.But maybe we should do a roll call? The Korean crew:
- Popie (Lee Jung-jae) - he heads up the Korean contingent; a flashy dude
- Pepsee (Kim Hye-soo) - the elegant safecracker who just served her prison sentence
- Chewing Gum (Kim Hae-sook) - the middle-aged con artist who donates her ill-gotten gains to her daughter
- Yenicall (sexy Jeon Ji-hyun) - the wire specialist who adroitly (and cheerfully) scales walls
- Zampano (Kim Soo-hyun) - the novice and Yenicall's smitten rope man
And the Chinese crew:
- Chen (Simon Yam) - the veteran thief
- Jonny (Derek Tsang) and Korean-Chinese Andrew (Oh Dal-soo) - Chen's two henchmen
- Julie (Angelica Lee) - daughter of a professional safecracker
Big ups to Choi Dong-hoon's tight, self-assured direction. But he's abetted by a charismatic star-studded ensemble made up of a celebrated Korean cast and Hong Kong (and Malaysian Chinese) luminaries. It's these actors who drove The Thieves to become the second-most money maker in the history of Korean cinema (sorry, The Host is still champ). I love the various group dynamics that come together and fall apart. There's a lot of moving pieces for the director to keep track of, and, sure 'nuff, several characters get short shrift. But you could tell even they were having fun in this all-star mixer.
If there were a "face" to the movie, it's Kim Hye-soo's desolate Pepsee. She's the most honest person in this story, just out of stir and participating in this caper not for the loot but to straighten out her mopey heart. The acting is good all around, but the women are conspicuously good. Jeon Ji-hyun, whom I crushed on in My Sassy Girl, is easy on the eyes, but what makes her remarkable is the casual sass she imbues into her character. Even when Yenicall is backed into a corner, it's evident she's still having the time of her life. I love that quality about her.
And while I wince at the name of Kim Hae-sook's con artist (Chewing Gum, for real?), the actress manages to lend a three-dimensional weight to her role. This is surprising because "Chewing Gum" is so obviously predominantly a comic foil.
I enjoyed the civil on the surface, seething underneath rivalry between Popie and Macao Park, ex-partners who four years ago bungled a caper. Popie is one of them cats who thinks they're more clever than they really are. Popie is a straight-up heel, yo, but Lee Jung-jae is so good and has such good comic timing you'd be hard pressed not to like him. He's got the more showy part, though. Kim Yoon-seok as the mysterious "Macau Park" has to play it closer to the vest. You don't really know what he's about until the action-packed third act when we find out that stealing the Tear of the Sun was only step one of his master plan.
No, son, The Thieves as a heist classic isn't quite up there with, say, John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle or Jules Dassin's Rififi or Michael Mann's Heat or Nolan's Inception (yes, Inception is a heist movie). As a more commercial entertainer it doesn't hit the spot as resoundingly did McTiernan's Thomas Crown Affair or Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven or Marky Mark's The Italian Job. But I bow down to your contention that I come from the perspective of a western audience and so isn't as invested with the cast and culture. I point out that the third act seems a departure from the tone of the previous two acts. The first two acts focus on the elements of the heist and how that caper plays out. It's neat that, besides the expected obstacles, the thieves are also aware of another potential threat in the shape of a frightful bogeyman named Wei Hong. No one knows what Wei Hong looks like or even his nationality. One identifier is the butterfly tattoo on his hand. Think all that is relevant? Maybe. The third act is the messy aftermath as, post-heist, various players meet their fates. We watch as the film shifts to a Macau Park-centric narrative. It's almost like another film as Macau switches to frenzied action hero mode. It's exciting times in an extended adrenalin overdose sequence as the mastermind catapults off buildings on a wire and dodges bullets and takes on heavily armed thugs. Huh. Maybe he's not so good at masterminding after all. Not if a body has to resort to jumping off buildings to dodge bullets. Watch this movie anyway.
The DVD's bonus stuff (with English sub-titles):
- Making Of featurette (00:05:50 minutes)
- Meet the Thieves (00:04:32 minutes)
- The Thieves trailer
on April 25, 2013
South Korean and Chinese thieves team up to steal a $20 million diamond, the "Tear of the Sun", from a highly secured casino - a risky task that will require all of their unique skills. But, a thief's natural habits kick in and a who's-playing-who scenario kicks in. The Thieves is a superbly thrilling heist film.
The Thieves has a fairly recognizable story. Thieves teaming up and planning a heist really isn't anything new; however, The Thieves uses this formula correctly as it never fails to entertain. Each thief brings a specific skill, whether it's recon or vault-cracking, and they all have witty personalities. The bickering is actually humorous. The action sequences this film incorporates are amazing. Some very daring and exhilarating stunt work to keep you at the edge of your seat, amazing shootouts that will have you trying to dodge bullets, and intense chases that will leave you suspended. It all leads up to a great ending. This is a huge step for South Korean action films; action that can match the biggest blockbusters. The acting is great from the entire cast. The entire cast delivers consistently. The choreography is stunning and well-done, creating great action-packed sequences. The cinematography of the film is also superb, especially the large scale shots.
Overall, The Thieves is a fantastic action-heist film. The superb action sequences take center stage, and are supported by a great, diverse cast. South Korean films are entering a new whole new level, raising the bar for action films around the world. As of 4/23/13, this film is available on Netflix Streaming, a purchase is highly recommended.
The Thieves has strong violence and blood.
on September 27, 2014
Anything Gianna Jun is in is going to be good. I've seen all her movies and would by almost any product she endorsed. I feel like I know her--even though I don't. I was happy to see her and costar of "Man from the Stars" win most popular was well deserved. They are great together.
on January 25, 2016
This is the Korean version of Leverage, but far better. I watched this twice after receiving it, plus all the extras they throw in. I think I got the better end of the deal on this purchase. It is not hard to fall in love with the characters. The actors and actresses do an exceptional job in making the movie really come alive; plus the casting crew made sure each character is distinct so you are never lost in what each person is doing. There are so many elements and twists that you will not leave your seat until it is over.
on December 16, 2015
NOT LIKE THE KOREAN DRAMAS WE'VE BEEN WATCHING. GREAT ACTION BUT HEAVY ON THE EXPLETIVES. Cool to see the initial chemistry and humour between Jun Ji-hyun and Kim Soo-hyun - which is why be bought this one. LOVED THEM IN My Love from the Star.
There is a lot of humour. Similar to ITALIAN JOB, Ocean's 11 and Ocean's 12 movies in that an ensemple cast do great jobs. But like the Ocean's films we plan to watch it only once and share with others.
on December 16, 2013
best stunt work you will see. Ever. The chase scene in which one characters jumps out of a building through a window was so good, the special effects so seamless, so pure, you almost don't notice how amazing it truly is. I had to rewind that part twice to make sure what I'd seen had really happened.
Though the story is needlessly hard to follow, this is a must see for Asian cinema fans.