The first time I heard about this Korean movie, I immediately thought of the Ocean's trilogy. However, the resemblance between the two installments only stops at the "heist" theme. The movie is nothing like Ocean's Eleven, in a good way.
The story involves an ensemble cast playing the roles of experienced thieves with completely different characters. They generally belong to either Popie's (Lee Jung Jae) team or Macao Park's (Kim Yoon Seok) team. Popie and Macao Park themselves used to be heist partners who separated ways because of an incident four years ago. There has been tension between the two and now Popie and his team live in South Korea and Macao Park and his team live in Hong Kong.
The two gangs don't contact each other until fate brings them together again. Such fate is in the form of the very tempting Tear of the Sun, a diamond worth $20 million, safely stored at a casino in Macao. Then the two parties decide to work together and negotiate how the profit will be divided. But it's never that easy. Each of these people apparently has a different agenda. What starts off as a smooth cooperation branches out to distrust, treachery, and emotional conflicts. The crew is faced with big crisis and is at the edge of breaking down. Not to mention the sadistic fence they're selling the diamond to, Wei Hong (Kim Gook Seo), who will hunt them down at all cost if he doesn't get the diamond.
Now that the story has been broken down, you can see that The Thieves is another heist movie, with typical clever plans and adrenaline-pumping actions (clearly you want them to succeed at stealing the prize). The Thieves has all these aspects, conveyed in the strong characters. For instance, Yenicall (Jeon Ji Hun) is the wire-walker, the "face", the temptress who can lure the victim to her den. There is Pepsee, the safe expert who can unlock practically anything. There is Chen (Simon Yam), the veteran thief who actually has attempted to steal Tear of the Sun. There is Zampano (Kim Soo Hyun), probably the only one innocent in this sea of liars. And there are many more interesting characters. As you can see, the variety of the characters builds up such strong movie. Each character has his/her own role in realising the heist, and even without one of them, it would definitely fail.
However, what distinguishes this movie from other heist movies on the market (and hence make it great) is its darker tone. Often what's good in the thievery world is the solidarity of a crew. The loyalty to each other and the willingness to help one another are what make a team worth it. This is what the audience would expect. In The Thieves, the characters don't live by that code. A rough past has made those qualities damaged and crippled that they turn their backs on each other. There are betrayal, juicy romance, heartbreaks, sadness, you name it. More interestingly, the audience is not able to take sides as their actions are either equally justified by their reasons or equally bad. In short, The Thieves is a con-movie with the right dose of emotional roller coaster.
Other good points about this movie include the beautiful cinematography and sets. The views were literally breathtaking and the audience got to see more of South Korea, Hong Kong, and Macao, especially the extravagant sides. It was as if I were transported there and participated in the heist myself. The actors also played their role really well; I heard the casts are already famous and known for their talents in their origin countries.
If there were a few things I could complain about this movie, it would be the duration. It took 136 minutes to finish The Thieves, while it could have been much shorter. At some point the flow became to sluggish and slow that I was a bit bored. Some scenes probably were better left out. Another complaint would be about the ending. It was sadly too vague for me and could have been portrayed more clearly. Finishing the movie, I wasn't sure of what happened to some characters, which is a pity. Nevertheless, these are my only concerns. Other than that, the movie blew me away.
As a conclusion, this movie is definitely worth watching for. If you're a fan of heist and con movies like I am, then this will be your delicious cup of tea. If you're not, don't worry, this movie will entertain you with its wit and mysteriousness. It's also opened my eyes to look for other great international movies. The thieves is absolutely on par with the dominating Hollywood movies and deserves to be watched by many (it's even one of the most successful movies in South Korean box office). If you're looking for the DVD, you can buy at Asian DVD stores (there is one I know at 185 Bourke Street, Melbourne) or even perhaps at regular DVD stores. I give this movie 5/5.