Glasgow Film Festival Review: The Thieves Print
Written by Ivan Radford   
Thursday, 21 February 2013 16:39

A woman opens the window in her fiancée's museum. She speaks into an earpiece, climbs out, then walks up the wall to the roof. From that moment on, The Thieves well and truly captures your attention.

Choi Dong-hoon's film has been billed as South Korea's answer to Ocean's Eleven. From its über-cool editing and all-star cast to the absurdly complex plot, it's every bit as stylish – and thanks to its globe-trotting locations and relentless pace, at times, even more impressive.

After their successful heist in Seoul, Popie (Lee Jung-jae) and his crew head to China, where an old colleague who once betrayed them, Macao Park (Kim Yun-Seok), has a job lined up. The aim? To snatch the Tear of the Sun, a diamond owned by a mobster’s wife.

On the way, they hook up with ex-con and old flame Pepsee (Kim Hye-soo), only to find themselves forced to work with another group of Chinese grifters. Double-crossing friends. International rivalry. Romantic history. What could possibly go wrong?

Dong-hoon has great fun building up the tension between the thieves, who eye up each other cautiously in a Macao restaurant. “Why did you touch me?” blurts one insecure conman after losing his wallet. “Is it because you like me?”

The huge sea of faces start to blur together as the director steps up a gear, but even when he pauses of exposition, the film never really slows down: Choi Young-hwan’s camera hurtles around the colourful sets with more sass than Gianna Jun’s scene-stealing wirewalker, Yenicall, who slinks out of designer dresses, into jumpsuits and down ventilation shafts like a foxy Tom Cruise.

Balancing his star-packed cast with equal agility, Choi gives everyone a chance to shine, from the elderly veteran getting back into bed to the young apprentice keen to prove himself. Best of all, four of the characters are females – and fleshed-out females at that, giving what could have been a stale blockbuster a refreshing shot of character-driven class.

The whole thing explodes into action come the finale, with some exceptional technical trickery on show: one chase sequence across awnings and balconies unfolds like a live-action Aladdin with twice the adrenaline. Underscored by a sashaying soundtrack, full of tooting trumpets and sliding strings, the whole thing is amazingly intricate – even the plot twists have plot twists – but Choi Dong-hoon hits his groove early on, making the whole thing seem utterly effortless.

It’s the second-highest grossing film in Korea’s history – and with good reason. Even when the end credits roll, you won’t even realise that The Thieves has stolen two hours from you.