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London Korean Film Festival: The Thieves

November 10, 2012

FestivalsFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

Foreign film directors often find themselves comprehensively confined to a large number of frontiers that limit their works from reaching a large international market and as such many classic filmic triumphs remain unseen by the masses. Foreign directors often utilise avant-garde cinema verite style of filming methods, non-liner narratives, alongside the language barrier however, as time has passed foreign cinema has developed and is technically and visually on par with mainstream Hollywood. South Korean cinema has been making waves here in the West for well over a decade forging with it a large cult following of an audience who seek something more than the formalistically scripted material of Hollywood. So successful have foreign films been in their home markets that Hollywood studios have noticed this and have championed many English language remakes in recent years, with 2013 seeing the release of Spike Lee’s adaptation of Chan-wook Park’s 2003 film Old Boy.

Director Dong-Hoon Choi is the latest director to enjoy international recognition with Korea’s current highest-grossing domestic film, The Thieves. A multi-star studded caper heist film which is cleverly scripted and carefully tailored for an international audience without losing its essence as a Korean film. The film opens to a long and rather slow paced sequence which introduces us to a gang of thieves lead by Popie (Lee Jung-jae) and his extremely photogenic team of  Yenicall (Gianna Jun) who seductively seduces a gallery owner whilst her ‘mother’ Chewingum (Kim Hae-sook)  creates a distraction. Popie shoots a steel cable and transports Yenicall into the gallery safe, stealing a vase and leaving in its place a cheap replica.

It’s not long before the cops come sniffing and once a thief always a thief motto leads them to Popie and the gang who evade being caught by the skin of their teeth. Popie and his gang want to hit one big raid that will get them filthy rich, but to do so they must team up with a rival gang in Hong Kong to steal the ‘Tear of the sun’, a $30 million diamond necklace locked away in an impenetrable safe on the 30th floor of a casino in Macao. The diamond necklace belongs to Wei’s Mistress who has synchronised her pacemaker with her room security system to which only she can gain access. An intricate and detail plan masterminded by Macao Park (Kim Yun-Seok) the gang leader takes them on the journey which sees them attempt to sell the diamond back to Wei.

Choi is a master of his art for he knows the importance of the backstory and he cleverly interweaves this throughout the film without tediously boring his audience. Choi uses flashbacks to explain the rivalry between the gang and this pays dividend in his subliminally created sweet love story. Choi uses spatially limited spaces to develop regular action scenes into extraordinary nail-biting scenes that push you onto the edge of your seat. The film starts slow but once past the first half you’re in for a delight as the action unfolds with a three-way gun fight that has your heart pounding as you decide who you want to see come out alive. The performances are delivered effortlessly and with ease, the ladies within the film are the real winners for they are given their own identity by Choi. The Thieves is a well-balanced film and the characters though many of them are scripted well and each has their own importance. The film does not break new grounds but then it does not aim to, it does not take itself too seriously and nor should you, it a fun film which surpasses the language barrier and is a blast to watch.

Rehan Yasin