Wednesday, November 25, 2015

If the end of Jessica Jones has created an empty #Showhole, Gianna Jun's 2012 heist flick The Thieves might briefly pull you out of it

I love the heist genre so much that whenever I encounter a serious article about racial inequality, I like to always take that article and envision it in my head as a crowd-pleasing heist flick where mistreated characters get revenge on the ones who mistreated or subjugated them by stealing their enemies' shit. For instance, that happened while I read "Not All Nerds," Christopher T. Fan's terrific 2014 New Inquiry critique of the ways Silicon Valley handles its diversity problems.

A heist flick where a crew of Asian American men and women sticks it to the racist and corrupt Silicon Valley tech world they used to work for has been playing in my head for a long time. It started out as a story idea I called Robbery in Progress (it included Quincy Jones and the Don Elliott Voices' "Money Runner," the primary theme from the 1971 heist flick $ [Dollars], as a song I wanted to feature--"Money Runner" is, by the way, now playing on AFOS--and it would have revolved around a much smaller, much younger crew of three inexperienced Asian American thieves getting even with the racist small town they live in and receiving robbery lessons from a criminal who's the cousin of one of the three teens). If such a heist flick ever gets made, and maybe by someone else, I hope it turns out to be as satisfying as something like Set It Off or 2012's even better The Thieves.

In South Korea, Assassination director Choi Dong-hoon's heist flick, about a crew of Korean thieves and a crew of Chinese thieves that unite to steal a diamond at a Macao casino, is currently the fifth highest-grossing Korean film of all time, sitting right below Bong Joon-ho's The Host. But over here, the solidly made 2012 blockbuster is a bit under the radar and well worth discovering on Amazon Video or via Netflix's DVD rental service.

Critics frequently compare The Thieves to Ocean's Eleven because of the starpower of the multilingual film's Korean and Chinese actors and the casino setting, but the casino and a healthy dose of humor are all they have in common. Unlike both the 1960 and 2001 Oceans, the thieves are constantly double-crossing each other, which makes The Thieves more like a glamorous and comedic Friends of Eddie Coyle, plus it's no sausage fest.

A lot more women are involved in the heists, and, as reviewer Seto Kit Yan noted in 2012, "they are not there as mere distractions or love interests." Without giving too much of The Thieves away, most of the film's juiciest material, both story-wise and performance-wise, involves the female characters, including Pepsee (Kim Hye-soo), a safecracker who's just been released from prison, which makes The Thieves a perfect chaser after marathoning the entire run of Jessica Jones, Marvel and Netflix's similarly female-character-heavy but much more dark (and wonderfully subversive) neo-noir drama.

You'll enter The Thieves being familiar with only one or two of the huge, Furious 6-size ensemble (in my case, the only stars I recognized were Simon Yam as the Chinese team leader and Angelica Lee, the star of the original version of The Eye, as Pepsee's safecracking counterpart on the Chinese team), and then you'll come away wanting to see more of the work of many of the film's other stars, particularly Gianna Jun, who's a comedic standout as Yenicall, a beautiful and snarky cat burglar. Yenicall is basically two different Leverage teammates, Parker the pickpocket/acrobat and Sophie the grifter, in the same body. Even though some of the ensemble gets killed off, a Thieves sequel is inevitable, and I'd like to see the surviving thieves mix it up with criminals and cops from a much different corner of Asia: are the likes of Deepika Padukone and Hrithik Roshan available?

Yenicall from The Thieves, illustrated by Rizky Nugraha

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