With only four films under his belt and debuting in 2004, many Americans may have overlooked South Korean director Choi Dong-hoon. "Tazza: The High Rollers" is a pretty terrific place to start since it's an extremely solid crime film with the perfect amount of sex, violence, and dark comedy. Six and a half years later and Dong-hoon is back with "The Thieves," which is another rendezvous with the crime genre for the South Korean director. Other than the common ground of both films revolving around characters who enjoy breaking the law to make a living, "Tazza: The High Rollers" and "The Thieves" feel like two completely different films in comparison.
Four years have passed since Macao Park (Kim Yun-seok) and Popie (Lee Jung-jae) have stopped working together as partners and they've gone their separate ways. However a 318-carat diamond known as the Tear of the Sun and valued at $20 million has brought together the teams of the former partners. Something that valuable is being kept in a casino located in Hong Kong that is overflowing with state of the art security and both teams are going to have to utilize their skills just right if they ever want to even think of pulling this off. The teams are already struggling with trust issues since it's already difficult for Chinese and Koreans to get along and the casino is infested with cops at all times. Betrayal, heartbreak, and intense action are embedded into "The Thieves," which is centered on this highly combustible heist and is reportedly the highest grossing film in Korean box office history.
The cast is already extremely impressive as the film reunites Dong-hoon with fellow "Tazza: The High Rollers" cast member Kim Hye-soo who portrays the fresh out of prison safecracker Pepsee. Also featured is Simon Yam ("Ip Man," "Fulltime Killer") as Chen and Oh Dal-soo ("Oldboy," "The Host") as Andrew of the Hong Kong team, Kim Yun-seok ("The Chaser") as the mastermind Macao Park, and Shin Ha-kyun ("Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance," "The Front Line") in a cameo appearance as a wealthy art gallery director. "Tazza: The High Rollers" had this dynamic sense of perspective and unique editing techniques that more than likely was used to resemble the comics it was based on. This is unfortunate because if that creative camera work had been brought into "The Thieves," then it may have been able to push a satisfactory crime thriller up over into the category of excellence that you'd expect from a cast of this caliber.
"The Thieves" is missing the quirky vibe that made "Tazza: The High Rollers" so entertaining. The massive heist with even bigger stakes and the large group of people who can't seem to get along trying to work as a team certainly doesn't leave room for "The Thieves" to be boring, but it also doesn't really make many attempts to be distinguishable from the other heist films you've seen. You've got these ten characters who may have a few additional character traits like Chewing Gum (Kim Hae-suk) wanting to settle down with someone after this score, but they all have the same intention of screwing everyone over at the nearest possible convenience. Whether it's for revenge or it's for their own greedy intentions, running off on their own with that diamond is on everyone's mind. They try to introduce love or a relationship between a few of the characters at several points in the film, but it always feels forced and never lasts for very long. There's certainly a lot of chemistry between all of the actors, but it's lacking that extra spark to make it special. It may be because there are so many characters and not enough time to get to know them individually.
The action does pick up in the second half, which is a relief. The film clocks in at 136 minutes and it seems like a little too much time is put into figuring out who new faces are, threatening to torture a dog, or that black car that's circled the block three times. Devoting time to character development or planning a heist this big is one thing, but "The Thieves" seems to spend slightly more time than it should on little things that don't really pay off. There's a slow-motion car wreck that's executed differently than you've seen in the past. It seems to be a blend of CG and practical effects, but it's welcome to see something so routine like another car wreck in a movie be somewhat diverse. The hotel war is the most explosive sequence of the film and arguably the film's highlight and the window ledge hopping scene that follows immediately after will get your heart racing.
"The Thieves" is a sufficient thriller that gets the job done, but it feels like it could've been so much more. It comes off like the "Ocean's Eleven" of South Korean cinema, but it also seems to be all talk and not enough action. Although slightly disappointing, "The Thieves" is worth seeing for its final 45 adrenaline pumping minutes.
Extras include a Making of featurette that clocks in just under six minutes, A Meet the Thieves featurette that is around four and a half minutes, and the official trailer. The Making of featurette is short, but fun. You find out how much fun everyone had making the film, that they loved working together, and that most of the actors did their own stunts.