By Robert Topalian

The London Korean Film Festival kicked off in red-carpet style at the Odeon in Leicester Square with the second highest grossing movie in Korean film history – The Thieves with its director Dong-Hoon Choi and main star Yun-Seok Kim in attendance.   

The screening got off to an ominous start when viewers had to sit through the best of K-Pop including  PSY’s Gangnam Style (twice) which felt a bit clichéd and was followed by two over-long speeches from the event’s organisers. 

The Thieves, however, did not disappoint. A glitzy and stylish heist movie with as many twists and turns as its all-star cast ensemble. Mixing comedy with violence and impressive action sequences, it is easy to see why it was such a big hit when it first opened in Korea.

 The picture begins in a private art gallery where two of the thieves –the ageing alcoholic Chewing Gum (Hae-Suk Kim), and the sexy and cynical Yenicall (Gianna Jun) – pose as mother and daughter in order to steal a precious artefact. Within minutes of the opening exchanges between the two and the young unwitting art gallery owner, everybody in the cinema was uproarious with laughter. When the stunts to steal the artwork began, the film came into its own and gave viewers a glimpse of what was to come. 

The gang of thieves, led by the shifty Popeye (Jung-Jae Lee), head to Hong Kong and team up with a group of local thieves, led by Popeye’s old colleague Macao Park (Yun-Seok Kim), in order to steal the ‘Tear of the Sun’ – a piece of jewellery worth $30 million from a casino in Macao. The tension between the two gangs increases when Popeye introduces another member of his team – Pepsee (Hye-Su Kim), who is fresh out of prison and an expert safe-cracker. Popeye, Pepsee and Macao Park previously worked on a botched job together leading both Popeye and Pepsee to believe Macao Park betrayed them.

Add an undercover cop into the mix and you have one hell of a bunch of scheming people. The language barriers within the group – Korean, Japanese, Mandarin and English – creates some good comic set pieces and the heist itself becomes more uncertain as its clear, when learning more about each character, that everybody involved has their own secret agenda. 

Comparisons with Ocean’s Eleven are inevitable and, like Ocean’s Eleven, some of the best parts are within the build-up to the heist itself. However, The Thieves has some poignant moments too, in particular a scene involving Chewing Gum and the veteran thief Chen (Simon Yam). Furthermore, the final third of the film boasts some exceptional set pieces involving high wires and some exquisite flying gun-play on the outside edge of an apartment building. Ironically, one of the main problems with the film arose from its greatest strength – the cast. Due to the sheer volume of characters, it was unclear what some of their final outcomes were at the end of the piece and there are a few loose ends. It also made the film too long at 136 minutes. Length aside, this unoriginal heist/action caper is extremely enjoyable, slick and genuinely funny and had those at the Odeon in Leicester Square applauding and cheering until the end credits.

 

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.

  • Margaret

    Probs would not have gone to see this before, but I think I will check it out after reading this.

  • GLS2302

    Sounds like a great film, unfortunately I missed the festival- but can’t wait to watch it when it’s out!