J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Swindlers: Conning the Con Artist

In The Flim-Flam Man, George C. Scott often says “you can’t cheat an honest man.” That’s Hwang Ji-sung’s entire business plan. He is a con artist, who targets other con artists (including the respectable white-collar variety). Hwang has no end of possible targets, but there is one particular purveyor of Ponzi schemes he has his sights set on. The con is on and it is definitely personal in Jang Chang-won’s deviously entertaining The Swindlers (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Jang Doo-chil is the Korean D.B. Cooper of pyramid schemes. He got away with billions and then faked his death in China, leaving behind thousands of ruined lives and at least ten suicides. Of course, to get away, he relied on highly placed corrupt officials in the Korean government. He also had papers forged by Hwang’s father, who was killed for his efforts, as a loose end. Since then, Hwang has sworn to kill Jang—and also shake loose some cash in the process.

That might sound like idle talk, but he is starting to get close enough to attract the attention of prosecutor Park Hee-soo. Hwang has already laid the groundwork to compromise a small-time real estate shark with direct links to Jang. Park wants in on the plan, so he puts his off-the-books team of not-so-reformed bunco artists at Hwang’s disposal. That includes a computer guy, Choon-ja, the designated femme fatale, and Ko Suk-dong, whom Hwang set up in one of his previous scams.

By the way, do not trust anybody. Sure, you’ve heard that before, but in this case, its warranted. It is amazing this is Jang Chang-won’s feature directorial debut, because he pulls of so much sleight of hand right before our eyes. It is also a minor miracle his attractive ensemble never starts breaking up, but they bluff their way through like consummate con artist professionals.

Of course, super-recognizable thesps like Park Sung-woong and Bae Sung-woo are total pros, who deliver in spades as the resentful Ko and Kwak Seung-gun, Jang Doo-chil’s trusted money man. Somehow, as Hwang, Hyun-Bin looks younger and edgier than he has in previous films like Confidential Assignment, so hey, good for him. Former K-pop star Nana also handles comedy and seduction with stylish flair as Choon-ja.

The Swindlers is the sort of film that totally plays viewers, but leaves them well satisfied by the experience. It is a good example of Korea’s emerging comparative advantage in caper movies, along with films like Seondal: The Man Who Sells the River and The Thieves. Logan Lucky was a genial film that critics hailed, but it is minor league small ball compared to The Swindlers. Very highly recommended for fans of Sting-style big con game movies, The Swindlers opens this Friday (12/1) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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