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Thread: NY ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL July 15-28, 2022

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    THE THIEVES 도둑들 (Choi Dong-hoon 2012)

    CHOI DONG-HOON: THE THIEVES 도둑들 (2012)



    This flashy 2012 caper flick, Korea's biggest homemade hit, is still a great watch

    This high-speed, jokey Korean caper film from 2012 is the country's biggest box office ever. Hollywood Reporter's original review threads its way through most of the complicated plot, though leaving details vague for the climactic action, the Ocean's Eleven-style collective Chinese+Korean gang effort to steal a diamond worth twenty or thirty million from the vault of a casino. There are other appreciative reviews, like Steve Macfarlane's for Slant and Jonathan Kiefer's for The Village Voice. Extra detail and a woman's point of view can be found in Maggie Lee's contemporary review for Variety.

    What sands out is the collective action, notably a babe who cooperates with her crude, down-to earth "mom" in the opening credits sequence to rob rare collectible valuables from a rich guy the young lady has been wooing for five months and is apparently thinking of marrying. While mom is questioning the guy about his collection, she is using chewing gum to block the alarm while her "daughter" rips off her Chanel outfit around a corner down to a black leotard and uses wires and electronic pulleys to skip down a building with loot. It's the effect of several things going on at once that makes it fun to watch.

    Later, when Korean and Macau gang members meet up the Macau ones bad-mouth the Koreans in Cantonese, but one of them knows Cantonese and insults them back. It's all a tad crude but it's all in jest. Listen for the click and ring of the Zippos - lighting cigarettes is always dramatic, and there are also lighters that don't click and ring, and matches that strike, dramatic also. Wire is another theme - very important. As well as an exciting and fun movie, it's also sensuous. There is a lot of kissing; there are romances, attractions, flirtations, couples. When it comes to the caper of course conflicts arise, and a mysterious person joins the effort that nobody knows about. There isn't just safe cracking: there are two rival schools, and multiple safes, and they don't know which one contains the treasure. When it's found, it's the mysterious man who who runs off with it, the film's most durable bad guy (Kim Yoon-seok).

    That of course is only the beginning. Who will steal it again? Who will sell it? Who'll get caught, and who'll escape? When the cops attack full-on a virtual war breaks out. There's hand-to-hand fighting, of course; this movie richly draws on Hong Kong action traditions. One of the film's distinctive aspects is its tremendous use of jumping and leaping and diving between buildings, parcour-style, some of the most dynamic of it performed by women.

    The Thieves may seem overcomplicated. But these are arguably necessary embroideries to amuse those already familiar with the pattern of the casino caper film represented by the links of Bob le Flambeur, Casino Royale, and Ocean's Eleven, and the complicated heist film, whose archetype may be Jules Dassin's classic Rififi. But with the multiple stars, the clarity of the editing the sensuality and humor, the important roles played by women, and the dazzling action, this is a pan-Asian crime film that establishes its own special place in that historic company.

    The Thieves 도둑들, 135 mins., first opened in Korea Jul. 25, 2012, and showed at Toronto, Busan, Sitges, and many other international festivals and received numerous nominations and awards. It still shows at specialized festivals today and was screened for this review at one, the 2022 New York Asian Film Festival (which also included a presentation of Wong Kar-wai's 1997 classic Happy Days 春光乍洩). Metacritic rating: 75%. It was shown at the AMC Empire in Manhattan when released and the New York Times, though their review was brief, made it a "NYT Critic's Pick."

    NYAFF SHOWTIMES:
    Sunday Jul 31, 1:00pm
    Asia Society
    Director Choi Dong-hoon will attend the screening.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-19-2022 at 06:59 PM.

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