The Thieves (South Korea, 2012) is Asia’s answer to the Ocean’s films, a sleek, snappy heist movie with plenty of working parts, eccentric personalities, and convoluted plotlines complicated even more by a confusing flashback structure more entertaining than elucidating and more twists than you can easily track.
The basic premise brings together two separate crack crews, one from South Korea and one from Hong Kong, and sends them to Macau to steal a priceless (and ostensibly nonexistent) diamond necklace from a brutal crime boss. The mysterious mastermind of this heist (Kim Yun-seok) who has his own agenda, but then who doesn’t? Half the crew is out to rip off the other half, which is already just out for themselves.
As a fan of the Hong Kong New Wave, I have a soft spot for Simon Yam, an elder statesman of Chinese pop movie stardom who here is given a genuinely romantic / tragic heroism. It’s just one of the many boxes the film checks off in its everything-plus-the-kitchen sink conglomeration of heist movie conventions. It’s also got romance, pulp crime tragedy, reversals of sympathy, and some pretty thrillingly staged and executed action scenes. Mostly, it just hurtles ahead and sweeps us up in the silliness. Not that it is any sillier than American examples of the genre. We may not recognize the Korean stars playing the high-tech heist games, but a slick, bouncy star vehicle works the same in any language.
Not rated, in Korean with English subtitles.