[A Look Back on Korea's 'Cheonman Movie' #6] 'The Thieves'

연합뉴스 / 2021-09-05 07:00:46
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by Ra Hwak Jin / Cha Min Kyung

[Episode 6] The Thieves (2012 Directed by Choi Dong-hoon)

▲ This photo shows the entire main cast of the movie "The Thieves." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap) 


"The Thieves," which was released in 2012 and directed by Choi Dong-hoon, known as the "genius of entertainment films," attracted 12.98 million viewers, becoming the sixth highest-grossing film Korean film history.

The film, which tells the story of thieves working to steal rare diamonds, is differentiated from other "cheonman movies (a Korean term used to refer to most-watched films)" introduced earlier in that it is a entertainment movie but nothing more than a "popcorn movie."



▲ This file photo, taken on Aug. 15, 2012, shows people buying tickets for the movie "The Thieves." (Yonhap)

"The Thieves" is an example that shows movies can attract a massive audience as long as the story and characters are entertaining without showing some sort of patriotism like "The Admiral: Roaring Currents" and "Ode to My Father," or social issues such as "Veteran" and high-tech computer graphic (CG) effects like "Along with the Gods."

The movie's 10 million mark is considered to have changed the box office formula of Korean films, given that the audience of "The Thieves" bought tickets for pure entertainment and fun.

◇ The ultimate star-studded cast lineup

At the time, "The Thieves" brought together a group of high-profiled cast members who were perceived 'too good to be true.' Actors Lee Jung-jae and Kim Soo-hyun, who were famous for their outstanding looks and acting skills, appeared with top actresses Kim Hye-soo and Jun Ji-hyun as well as acclaimed actor Kim Yoon-seok, and Hong Kong noir star Simon Yam.


▲ This photo shows a scene from the movie "The Thieves" and actor Kim Yun-seok (left), Lee Jung-jae, actress Jun Ji-hyun, and actor Kim Soo-hyun. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Lee Jung-jae's poor physical appearance resembles his character Lee Ja-sung from the film "New World," which was released in the following year, and Kim Yun-seok who seemed as if he was playing his previous ruthless "Agwi (a Korean term for a starving demon)" character from "Tazza: The High Rollers" shows an unexpected charm to the audience.

Kim Soo-hyun, who rose to stardom with the historical drama "The Moon Embracing the Sun" that year, somehow attractively digests his clumsy yet youthful character.

One of the movie's biggest gains is rediscovering the potential of Jun Ji-hyun. Jun, who has been lingering in her fixed "girly and bubbly" image for 11 years since her debut film "My Sassy Girl" in 2001, showed her true value and became the scene stealer in "The Thieves."


▲ South Korean actress Jeon Ji-hyun, who stars in the new movie "The Thieves," poses for a photo in Seoul on July 11, 2012. The movie, which depicts South Korea and Chinese thieves who plot to jointly steal a $20 million blue diamond known as the Tear of the Sun, will appear on South Korean screens on July 25. (Yonhap) 

While Jun's jaw-dropping body and humorous wire action plays a big role in her character transformation, Jun is straightforward and doesn't filter out her thoughts or opinions. However, Jun's character doesn't come off as a foul-mouthed tough person, but rather charmingly sexy and chic.

Since the actress was not restricted by her outfits throughout the film, Jun was able to naturally and lively carry out her acting, and was even praised for becoming the 'Angelina Jolie' of Korea.

In fact, after her performance in "The Thieves," Jun appeared in action and thriller films like "The Berlin File" (2013) and "Assassination" (2015), solidifying her position as an actress who can pull off action scenes while acting. Additionally, Jun Ji-hyun and Kim Soo-hyun's romance, which was not completely fulfilled in the movie, is later showcased in the fantasy drama "My Love from the Star."

◇ Choi Dong-hoon: the mastermind behind "The Thieves"

▲ Choi Dong-hoon, director of the new movie "The Thieves," poses in Seoul on July 18, 2012. The movie, which depicts South Korean and Chinese thieves who plot to jointly steal a $20 million blue diamond known as the Tear of the Sun, will appear on South Korean screens on July 25. (Yonhap)

Director Choi Dong-hoon, who proved his talent in directing since his debut film, has succeeded in making smash-hits including "The Big Swindle" (2004, 2.13 million viewers), "Tazza: The High Rollers" (2006, 6.85 million), and "Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard" (2009, 6.14 million).

Choi, who started off his career as a director with an entertainment film as his first work, tends to focus on making "fun movies" rather than considering the social meaning or artistry of a film, and has finally become a director of multiple "cheonman movies."

Director Choi once again demonstrated that historical films could be entertaining with his 2015 film "Assassination" and is currently expanding his scope of work with an upcoming SF film "Alien," which recently completed the filming process.

◇ "The Thieves" not to be mistaken with "Ocean's Eleven"

"The Thieves" naturally reminds the audience of the Hollywood film "Ocean's Eleven" (2001), starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, in that both movies involve a star-studded cast and follow a scenario of thieves robbing casinos.

However, director Choi drew a line between the two films, saying "'The Thieves' is different from 'Ocean's Eleven'" in an interview at the time of the film's release.

Director Choi said, "While genre movies should repeatedly be released, it is important to avoid repetition," adding, "In the movie industry as a whole, crime movies are lower genres and movies about thieves are even lower. The key to differentiating such movies is the angle in which the film is focused on. The important point in our movie was to portray the problem between human relationships, rather than the act of stealing itself."

After attending the Hong Kong International Film Festival in March 2010, director Choi decided to film a movie in the country. At the time, Choi also visited Macau and came up with the scenario while drinking coffee at a cafe in front of the cathedral, where he later filmed a scene for "The Thieves."

In fact, the emotions of Hong Kong noir remain in this film. In that sense, if people want to see similar movies, we recommend "Once a Thief" (1991), directed by John Woo and starring Chow Yun-fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung, rather than "Ocean's Eleven."



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