The Thieves (도둑들, Choi Dong-Hun: 2012)

The opening gala of the London Korean Film Festival at the Odeon West End, 1st November 2012, was packed, and rightly enough so, as the Festival opened with the  The Thieves, a crime/heist drama which has broken box-office records in South Korea. The high octane action takes us between Busan,  Hong Kong and Macao, as two groups of thieves – the first from South Korea – Popie, Chewingum, Yenicall, Pepsee and Zampano, and the other from Hong Kong –  Andrew, Chen, Johnny and Julie – attempt to be the first to steal a priceless diamond ‘Tear of Sun’ from gangster boss, Wei Yong. Throw into the mix, a backplot in which one of the South Korean gang, Macao Park, seemingly doublecrossed the group during a previous heist, the consequences of which threatens to tear the group of thieves apart, a growing romance between Chewingum and Johnny which is brutally cut short and dark twist towards the second half of the film and you have a particularly South Korean take on the heist genre.

It is, however, a film that needs more than one viewing, to be able to offer a more detailed review as there are subtleties which I am sure that I missed the first time around. Someone I was discussing the film with, pointed out the film’s use of local dialects, which does not come over through the subtitling process, and which contained a great deal of humour and nuances that some of the audience seemed to get more than others. It is easy to see why The Thieves has been such a success in the domestic marketplace, in that it brings a Korean sensibility to an action-packed genre that cannot fail to engage its viewer.

Crossing over as the film does between South Korea, Macau and Hong Kong, this Korean sensibility is imbued with a Pan-Asian cosmopolitanism, offering the spectacle of East Asia as a place of vibrancy and vitality, which will certainly appeal to a global audience,  more so than some of the smaller and more localized films showing at the London Korean Film Festival this year. I am not sure whether The Thieves will be my top pick of the Festival, as I tend to be drawn to more independent and smaller films.  But what The Thieves highlights is the very diversity of South Korean cinema as well as an ability to compete on a global stage and it is a film that is worth going out of your way to see, especially on the big screen.


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