J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Thieves: The Macao Job

In the movies, casinos exist just so they can be taken down.  However, one Korean criminal mastermind is not just pulling a heist because the casino is there, like Everest in downtown Macao.  He is out for payback.  Nor is he is not the only one looking to settle scores in Choi Dong-hoon’s Thieves (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

A monster hit in Korea, Thieves has just about all the classic heist movies elements.  There is Popie, the cynical ringleader, Yenicall, his hot new accomplice to shimmy about in Cat Woman suits, and her predecessor, Pepsee, fresh out of prison.  They have been recruited for a job in former Portuguese colony by the man Popie and Pepsee blame for her incarceration, their former partner, Macao Park.

After a rather unfortunate incident in an elevator shaft, Macao Park disappeared with a bag full of gold, reinventing himself as a bank breaker in Macao’s casinos, thereby earning his new moniker.  It is not the casino’s cash Park is after this time.  He is interested in the “Tear of the Sun,” a spectacular diamond a guest is storing in their vault.  That would be Tiffany, the mistress of mobbed-up fence Wei Hong.  The plan is to steal the diamond and sell it back to Hong, with the help of a Hong Kong crew led by the sly Chen (for the record, this will make them an even ten).  That might not sound like a very good plan, because it isn’t, but it’s not really what many of the conspirators have in mind.  There are a lot of agendas at play in Thieves that will inevitably lead to a series of crosses and double crosses.

Dripping with style, Thieves will draw obvious comparisons to the Oceans franchise, but it is rather better than that.  While there is comic relief here and there (mostly from Oh Dal-su’s crook, Andrew), Thieves is far edgier with very real sense of danger present throughout.  Nobody here mugs for the camera or tries to show the audience how much fun they are having.  They are professionals and not all of them are going to make it.

Thieves also has something else the Oceans lack: Simon Yam, bringing all kinds of HK action movie cred as the crafty old Chen.  This is a great part for him, allowing him to stretch out as he develops romantic chemistry with Kim Hae-suk’s “Chewing Gum,” the mature Korean con woman he has been paired up with. 

Yet, Yam does not quite out-grizzle Kim Yun-seok’s Macao Park.  Rumpled in a noir way, he could kick Clooney’s butt while still hung over, much like his breakout character in The Chaser (but not quite as dark).  Also recognizable to international audiences (from The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, among other films), Gianna Jun makes flirtation looks dangerous as the seductive cat burglar Yennical.

Clearly, Choi was not afraid to cut loose with third act action sequences.  There will be no place for smug looks over champagne when it is all said and done, which is what makes it so refreshing.  An amped-up but pleasingly devious heist movie, Thieves is highly recommended for genre fans when it opens this Friday (10/12) in New York at the AMC Empire.

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