The Thieves


Easier to like than it is to follow, Choi Dong-hoon’s glossy caper boasts all the pomp and cajolery of the true international blockbuster. It’s like some exhaustedly populist pan-Asian restaurant with too many menu pages and Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven playing on a flat-screen over the bar. You never want to leave, until suddenly you feel queasy and punished. The essential operation involves Korean and Chinese crews in uneasy cahoots for a Macau casino heist, with several stars graciously allowed their often daffy individual variations on suavity. Their target is a $20 million diamond, but really this is about the journey—galloping through lots of peppy infighting and Hong Kong action homage toward the climactic showdown between a chilly mobster (Kee Kook-seo) and a charismatic criminal mastermind (Kim Yun-seok). Choi keeps things brightly lit and twinkling with the glamour of Zippo flicks, pocket picks, safe cracks, and double-crosses, plus some signature mix of menace and comic relief. Stuffed with free-floating flashbacks and schemes within schemes, The Thieves reminds us how mass-market storytelling is after all just one big compulsion to create a diversion. This didn’t get to be Korea’s highest-ever grosser by accident.