The highest grossing Korean film of all time, Dong-hoon Choi’s “The Thieves” has been repeatedly characterized by critics as its native country’s take on Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s 11” remake. While there are certainly surface similarities between the films—both deal with a band of robbers pulling off a major heist—the comparison hardly seems fair in that “The Theives” gets wrong so much of what “Ocean’s 11” got right. Whereas Soderbergh knew that his cast of characters and his film’s overall style had to take precedence over plot, Choi gets caught up in the abundant machinations of “The Thieves,” most of which take place after the heist. The result is a convoluted mess that’s exhausting and difficult to follow, even if one has the desire (an iffy prospect at best).
Choi’s failure to deliver a consistently engaging product is particularly disappointing in that he possessed the talent required to do so. The opening sequence, a miniature heist of an artifact that requires an acrobatic young female robber (Gianna Jun) to climb up and down the sides of buildings in a flash, is breathtakingly assembled, a handsomely shot 10-minute piece of action filmmaking. So there’s every reason to believe that, had Choi made the main heist the climax of “The Thieves,” rather than the centerpiece (he co-wrote the screenplay in addition to directing), the movie would have succeeded as a conventional caper flick. But instead, the filmmaker minimizes this segment before jumping into an hour of double-crosses among and revelations about the titular thieves that do nothing to thrill the audience. These twists and turns are uninvolving because there isn’t one member of the ensemble who is the clear heart of film, a person we hope comes out ahead when all is said and done.
That’s not to say that the ensemble is bland; on the contrary, most of the characters are well-developed and clearly distinguishable from one another, especially the women. Choi does a relatively good job introducing all ten thieves at the beginning of the film, and the actors (particularly Gianna Jun, Hae-suk Kim, Hye-su Kim, and Yun-seok Kim) exude charisma, perhaps not on the level of the “Ocean’s”-troupe but a satisfactory amount nonetheless. However, in the second half of “The Thieves,” they become little more than Choi’s chess-pieces, suffocated by the abundance of plot. By the end, we hardly recognize them as the people we liked at the beginning of the movie. Choi’s structure, which uses the heist as one of many story-points rather than the film’s main course, may be original, but it certainly doesn’t do the characters any favors. Or the rest of the movie, for that matter; despite overwhelming potential, “The Thieves” is just another mediocre entry in the caper genre.
Blu-Ray Video and Audio: A decent transfer from Well Go USA. Certain scenes look a bit pixely—there are highly noticeable jaggies on the opening credits text—and others skew soft. You would expect the former of a digitally-shot and finished film, but not the latter. However, the video experience is good on the whole and the stellar audio field, with perfectly balanced dialogue and action effects, more than compensates for its shortcomings. Films like “The Thieves” give DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound a good name.
Special Features: As tends to be the case with Well Go discs, there aren’t many extras included on “The Thieves” Blu-Ray release. There’s a standard, six-minute “making of” featurette, plus a “Meet the Thieves” featurette in case you’re having a hard time keeping track of all 10 characters. The film’s trailer is also included, but that’s it.
Movie Grade: C-
Disc Grade: B
The Verdict: Rent only if you’re particularly interested in the caper genre or Korean cinema in general