By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Living in South Korea, I’ve been able to witness firsthand the quality of the film industry here. For all of the good arthouse films this country pumps out, it also manufactures its share of Hollywood-inspired fluff.
Although I for one can’t wait for Baseball Gorilla
So, when I saw a film starring a bevy of recognizable Korean stars as a team of globe- (well, Asia-) trotting master thieves planning a casino heist, I thought, “Well, Korea finally got around to knocking off Oceans 11.” The fact that it went on to break tons of domestic box office records just seemed to confirm that. And then I gave it a watch.
In my defense, the plot is pretty similar on the surface. A stacked cast including such recognizable faces as Kim Yun-seok (The Chaser), Lee Jung-jae (The Housemaid), Gianna Jun (the only one with English-language crossover success… kinda- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Blood: The Last Vampire), Kim Hae-suk (Thirst), and Hong Kong actor Simon Yam (Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) are indeed planning on stealing the famed Tear of the Sun diamond form a suite in a casino, and of course they all have interesting backstories full of heartbreak and betrayal, leading to mutual distrust and a slew of hilarious insults. This story ends up going much further than Oceans, though, with life and death stakes, undercover cops, and mysterious and intimidating tattooed jewel fences.
The film starts right off with a heist (which bookends nicely in the end) demonstrating the team’s skill, sharp sense of humor, and less than perfect grasp of the idea of teamwork. Chewingum and Yenicall are the highlights of the film from the start for me, displaying acerbic wit and each giving as good as they get, even if some of their jokes are unfortunately unintentional. Yenicall’s “Happy Ending is Mine” tattoo probably plays a bit differently in Korea… then again, this is the home of the “sports massage.”
The Thieves is very funny, but it’s far from the breezy good time of something like Oceans. This edge is carried over into the plotline, as things quickly go from bad to worse and many find that a happy ending will indeed not be theirs.
The real standout for me, though, was Choi Dong-hoon’s direction, as the film progresses from slickly shot, Hollywood-caliber visuals to something much more as the film ramps up in intensity. One parking deck shootout and car chase in particular ranks highly among the most inventive, best constructed scenes of the year, period. Also, some of the shots in Greater China (Macau, Hong Kong, etc) even better the excellent work done by Roger Deakins in the same locales for Skyfall, who should’ve won an Oscar for his cinematography last year.
The action sequences in general just keep topping themselves, with the piece de la resistance a rappelling, multiple-perspective fist and gun fight up, down, through, and across the face of an apartment tower that makes the cliff-side ninja battle in G.I. Joe: Retaliation look like the underwhelming CGI nonsense-fest it really was.
Wirework for life, bitches!
In typical Korean film fashion, this one is long- clocking in at two hours and fifteen minutes, and consequently takes a little while to get moving. Also, while often funny, the parade of withering insults from the crew, Yenicall in particular, have a disconnect between the delivery and the translation. My Korean gf was laugh out loud at lines with fairly pedestrian English subtitles, making me wish somebody had translated in context instead of just word for word. My recommendation: dub your own insults, like “lilly-livered fucktard”, “Sarah Jessica Parker-face”, or “fartbreath”. Results may vary.
A very entertaining, incredibly well-made, and increasingly thrilling heist flick that you should go watch immediately.
Take a Drink: for every inventive insult
Take a Drink: whenever you see a Dupont lighter
Take a Drink: every time a tense situation is resolved by a comic overreaction or yelling
Take Two Drinks: whenever it’s because of this sore thumb:
Do a Shot: that diamond is fake!
Insult Challenge: Dub your own insult for the inadequate subtitles. Everybody but the person receiving the biggest laugh Takes a Drink.