“Monty Cristo” here.
The site backend ate the review I wrote earlier today. The plan was to have it up this morning well in advance of the online box office for tonight’s screening in Austin closing. Oh well.
I found myself in Dallas all of a sudden at the end of last week for work, and was therefore able to see this movie that I blind-programmed. We’ve sold 170 out of around 200 tickets for a Korean movie that no one attending has seen at a fest, on an import disc, or anything. The trailer looks like a lot of fun, and in fact, the movie is a lot of fun too.
On the surface, it may look like a glossy, big-budget Asian OCEAN’S ELEVEN ripoff (which doesn’t sound that bad in and of itself), but it actually does a number of things rather differently. The variances merely begin with there being four primary female protagonists (instead of one) and a more contentious, everyone-for-themselves crew going for the big score.
The movie opens in the middle of “Popie/Popeye” and his crew pulling a job in Korea. Popie is played by Lee Jung-jae, the handsome star of THE HOUSEMAID remake who also does high fashion modeling. His looks play into his character being treated by his team as a peer without the grit or gravitas of a boss. It’s a notion that he resents, but which he feels helpless to change very much.
His crew includes sexpot acrobat Yenicall (Jeon Ji-hyun, star of MY SASSY GIRL), veteran lady thief “Chewingum” (THIRST’s Kim Hae-suk), and shy pretty boy Zampano (up-and-coming teen soap star Kim Soo Hyun). Zampano is obsessed with Yenicall, and Chewingum is ready to retire.
Popie’s mentor and colleague “Macao” Park (THE YELLOW SEA and THE CHASER’s Kim Yun-seok) gets in touch about a big score: the Tear of the Sun diamond. It’s a job so big that the team we’ve just met need to team up with a group from Hong Kong to pull it off. Before they leave for a meetup, “Pepsi” (3 EXTREMES II and RED SHOES’s Kim Hye-su) gets out of jail on parole. She has a history with both Popie and Macao Park, and we see the first seeds of conflict sewn, as well as the first hint of the double crossing to come.
The job is this: retrieve the diamond from the wealthy older woman staying at a particular Macanese casino through a series of complex misdirections and tricks. Then, they must fence it through one of two or three guys who can move a piece worth more than $20 Million.
The Hong Kong crew includes expert safecracker Julie (THE EYE’s Angelica Lee), another pretty boy named Johnny (Derek Tsang), the buffoonish “Korean-Chinese” Andrew (Oh Dal-su), and veteran badass Chen (Simon Yam). Oh Dal-su will look familiar if you’ve seen OLDBOY, THE HOST, THE GOOD/THE BAD/THE WEIRD, or THIRST. He’s great here as always. Simon Yam lends the movie a fair amount of gravitas. If you watch much Hong Kong action product, you’ll have seen him recently in the IP MAN movies, TRIANGLE, S.P.L. (Aka KILL ZONE), and various others. He gives one of the best performances in the film.
The meeting of the two groups provides yet further character development, which fleshes them out as real people rather than simply the archetypes they’re set to fill. I have to also mention that I was delighted to find how realistic their inter-racism was as well. More cracks form in the thin ice.
We also get a peek at the backup plans that many seem to have put in place or begin to from this point. There truly is no honor among these thieves in many ways, but there are various notable and delightful exceptions that surface in the form of unexpected friendships and even some fleeting, dare I say MOVING romance. I got the feeling that not everyone was going to make it out of this thing alive, and when death comes, it carries weight.
It spoils nothing to mention that the heist itself is only the second act. This movie is about the people (hence the title), not just the job. The inception, act of doing, and aftermath of the job is what carries these characters out of the repetitive phase they find themselves in, driving their lives forward. Determining whether that good or bad for them is up to us.
Don’t get me wrong, this IS a glossy, big-budget caper movie starring some of Korea and Hong Kong’s biggest stars, and is heavily American in its influences. There are a couple of moments that struck me as a little saccharine, but on the whole, the stakes the movie sets are serious and real, and it delivers a fun, old-fashioned heist story with a heavy dose of modern style. It ties up the threads that need tying up, and yet leaves loose ends in yet others in a way that I found highly satisfying. THE THIEVES shows that once again, East Asia can be more than capable of producing action and thrills in the Hollywood mold, possibly in a more focused manner than Hollywood itself can anymore.
It’ll be in theaters for a few more weeks, and I’m guessing it should be on video sometime in early 2013. See it while you can in a theater.
Austinites can come out tonight at 8pm (Alamo South Lamar) if they want, since a few tickets are still available at the door.