Foreign Affairs: 'The Thieves' is 'Oceans Korea' with a double-crossing crew
Plus 'Kid With a Bike' by the Dardennes, 'Teddy Bear' from Denmark, and more
"The Thieves" (Well Go) is Korea's answer to the "Ocean's" films, a sleek, snappy heist movie with plenty of working parts, eccentric personalities, and convoluted plotlines confused even more by confusing flashback structure more entertaining than elucidating and more twists than you can easily track.
The basic premise brings together two separate crack crews, one from South Korea and one from Hong Kong, and sends them to Macau to steal a priceless (and ostensibly nonexistent) diamond necklace from a brutal crime boss. The mysterious mastermind of this heist (Kim Yun-seok) who has his own agenda, but then who doesn't? Half the crew is out to rip off the other half, which is already just out for themselves.
As a fan of the Hong Kong New Wave, I have a soft spot for Simon Yam, an elder statesman of Chinese pop movie stardom given a genuinely romantic / tragic heroism, just one of the many boxes the film checks off in its everything-plus-the-kitchen sink conglomeration of heist movie conventions. It's also got romance, pulp crime tragedy, reversals of sympathy, and some pretty thrillingly staged and executed action scenes. Mostly, it just hurtles ahead and sweeps us up in the silliness. Because it's no sillier than American examples of the genre. We may not recognize the Korean stars playing the high-tech heist games, but a slick, bouncy star vehicle works the same in any language.
Blu-ray and DVD, Korean with English subtitles, with two featurettes. More reviews here.
"The Kid With a Bike" (Criterion), from Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, is a small story with a power in its simplicity. A young teenage boy (Thomas Doret), abandoned by his father (Dardenne regular Jérémie Renier) to a government home, is taken in by a single hairdresser (Cécile De France) who shows him a kindness. Part of the beauty is the mystery of this happenstance relationship between total strangers, and the perseverance to make it work, in the face of some difficult hurdles (not the least of which is the boy's desperation to find father figures in screwed-up men). "What eventually unfolds is a film about, to use Brian Wilson's phrase, love and mercy, and also about goodness and the finding of goodness," proclaims MSN film critic Glenn Kenny. "In less than 90 minutes, it builds to a quiet resolution, a cinematic miracle in which nothing happens and everything happens, and which brought some tears to this critic's eyes." French with English subtitles.
Blu-ray and DVD, with a 73-minute conversation with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne interviewed by film historian and critic Kent Jones, video interviews with actors Cécile de France and Thomas Doret, and the half-hour documentary "Return to Seraing" with the Dardennes revisiting five key locations from the film.
In "Teddy Bear" (Film Movement), "The old trope of the gentle giant looking for love gets a spare-looking, kind-hearted sprucing-up by Danish director Mads Matthiesen," writes New York Post film critic Farran Smith Nehme. Kim Kold stars as a shy bodybuilder who goes to Thailand hoping to meet a girl. "It’s wonderful to see an actor like Kold take over a screen not with his body, but with quiet, precisely calibrated facial reactions, often using just his eyes." In Danish, Thai and English with English subtitles. DVD, with two bonus short films from director Mad Matthiesen.
"Dangerous Liaisons" (Well Go) is, yes, a Chinese-language version of the classic (and oft-filmed) French novel, directed by a Korean filmmaker, set in 1930 Shanghai, and starring Ziyi Zhang as the chaste innocent. Mandarin with English subtitles. Blu-ray and DVD, with two featurettes. Reviews here.
"Black's Game" (Lionsgate) is a gangster thriller from Iceland, inspired by actual events that sent a student into the high life and high stakes of the Icelandic drug trade. Icelandic with English subtitles and optional English language soundtrack. DVD, with interviews. Reviews here.