South Korean box office smash hit The Thieves will immediately draw comparisons, especially from Western audiences, to Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s series. This flashy heist story follows a group of diverse thieves who band together to pull off the job of a lifetime; stealing an expensive diamond worth $30 million from a casino owned by a ruthless gangster.
Indeed there’s nothing terribly original about this tale of honour among thieves (or lack thereof), with many of the familiar tropes of the sub-genre rearing their heads including each member of the team having their own special skill, cutting back and forth between the planning and the execution of the job at hand and things not being exactly what they seem, to name but a few. However, what The Thieves lacks in originality it makes up for with slick entertaining action, engaging characters and fun performances.
The characters are very well played by the cast (which includes a plethora of internationally recognisable Asian actors including Kim Yun-seok, Simon Yam and Gianna Jun), ranging from the headstrong to the wacky, and it’s nice to see an inclusion of strong female characters instead of them being relegated to just looking good which is so often the case with these types of movies.
At 135 minutes it does go on a bit too long, with a few too many scenes that could have been shortened or cut altogether. With a lot of reliance on flashbacks it can be hard to keep up with the convoluted nature of the film, whose loyalty lies with who, what exactly caused the present-day trouble between a particular pair of the titular thieves and so forth. The subplots threaten to get in the way and interrupt the momentum of the piece. There’s a much simpler, more streamlined film in there somewhere but it can occasionally get lost in the baggy runtime.
Even in its moments of downtime it still keeps things entertaining as the characters bounce playful (and sometimes not so playful) insults at each other, quipping about their past experiences with one another and how one is better than the other at a particular task. It helps that the cast have strong chemistry together and their clashes of personality makes for an amusing watch.
It goes without saying that the film sometimes veers into the ridiculous but that comes with the territory. There’s plenty of inventive action punctuating the proceedings – a fight/chase sequence involving swinging along the side of a building on wires is particularly impressive – and it throws as many twists and turns at you as it can muster in order to keep you guessing throughout.
The Thieves is a glossy, entertaining heist film with an enjoyable mix of high stakes and light-heartedness. Is it breaking any new ground? Not especially but that doesn’t really matter when the caper is so much fun.
This review was also published in The Journal.