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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Thieves

February 11th, 2013

The Thieves - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Thieves cost $14 million to make, making it one of the most expensive South Korean films made. It also became one of the country's biggest hits, second only to The Host in terms of tickets sold in its native country. It wasn't able to find a major audience here, but it did perform well compared to most limited releases. Should the home market prove to be more lucrative?

The Movie

The film begins with a heist, a priceless artifact is being stolen by Popeye and his crew: Chewing Gum, veteran con artist; Yenicall, cat burglar extraordinaire; and Zampano, the protege. The cops are on to them almost immediately, because the artifact they stole was stolen, and the cops were trying to catch the original thief, Wei Hong. Since the heat is on, they have little choice but to leave town till things cool down. Fortunately, they have a job in China waiting for them, but first they have to add one more member to the team, Pepsee, a safecracker just out of prison.

The job is being set up by Macau Park, Popeye's and Pepsee's former partner. The last job they did ended with Macau seducing Pepsee and stealing $3 million in gold. (It's also the job that put Pepsee in prison.) The plan is to steal of rare diamond, the Tear of the Sun, worth $30 million from Wei Hong, and then sell it back to him for $20 million. It's a big job and Macau has a crew he works with in China. There's Chen, the leader; Johnny, the second in command; Andrew, the brash new recruit; and Julie, the daughter of a legendary safe cracker who has surpassed her father's skill. This is going to be a tough job under the best of circumstances, and the two teams start out hating each other. Popeye's team is South Korean, while Chen's team is Chinese, so there are conflicts there. Not only that, but their personalities clash as well. (Andrew is a bit of a hot head and starts out by insulting Popeye and the other South Koreans, not realizing one of them can understand Mandarin.) It will also be a very, very dangerous job, as Wei Hong has a reputation for killing anyone who crosses him.

As for the details of the plan, well, that's when we get into spoiler trouble. Granted, as a heist movie, you know the plan is going to fall apart, especially since everyone is working hard to screw over everyone else involved in the heist. Some are doing this for revenge, some are doing it for greed, while others have entirely different motives.

I think anyone talking about this movie is legally obligated to compare it to Ocean's Eleven. Both are heist films that take place in casinos and both films have an all-star ensemble cast, so the comparisons are not uncalled for, but this film has a darker tone to it. The loyalties change quite rapidly in the movie and there are much greater risks than in any of the Ocean movies. There are also much better action scenes as well. From the opening heist to the climatic ... I don't want to even say what the climatic action scenes involve, but there's a ton of action and it is all well choreographed. There are also a lot of tense scenes including one where two safe crackers are trying to crack two safes at the same time, using two different methods.

Also, The Thieves has much greater emotional depth than the Ocean's Eleven franchise had. Not only are there twists in the movie, but we learn through numerous flashbacks about the characters back-stories, and these not only explain the changing allegiances, but will also sway the allegiances of the viewer as well. (Granted, there are so many flashbacks that it is sometimes hard to keep track of all of them and what happened to whom.) The emotional impact is also thanks to impressive performances by the ensemble cast.

On a side note, there are ten members of the heist and four of them are women. Technically there are five out of eleven, if you include Macau Park's inside lady. None of the female characters are there merely has a romantic interest for a male character. That is not to say there is no romance. There's a sweet romance that builds between Chewing Gum and Chen. However, all of the female characters are strong in their own regard. Compare that to Ocean's Eleven, which had eleven main thieves, none of whom were female.

The Extras

The extras are a little light with just two short featurettes. The first is a six-minute long making of featurette, while the second is a four-and-a-half-minute long look at the characters.

The technical presentation is very good. While the film cost a huge amount for a Korean movie, it was only $14 million American, so it doesn't have the same visual flair as a $100 million blockbuster here would have, but there's nothing serious to complain about either. The level of detail is solid, but not spectacular. The colors are vivid and the black levels are deep. There's no significant compression issues or digital artifacts. Likewise, the audio is excellent with strong activity in the 5.1 surround sound track. Lots of ambient noises and directional effects will really bring the viewer to the center of the action.

As for the price, the Blu-ray costs a mere $13, or $3 more than the DVD. That's an excellent deal.

The Verdict

If you like Hollywood action heist movies, then buy The Thieves. It is worth picking up sight unseen. It has everything Hollywood can do well, plus it has a lot stronger emotional heart. The DVD is incredibly inexpensive for the quality of the movie, but the Blu-ray is the better deal.

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Filed under: Video Review, Dodookdeul, Ocean's Eleven, Oh Dal-soo, Kim Hae-sook, Simon Yam, Lee Jung-jae, Derek Tsang, Kim Yoon-seok, Kim Hye-soo, Jeon Ji-hyun, Kim Soo-hyun, Angelica Lee