Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Swindlers

I get that the local theater doesn't necessarily have a huge library of trailers to put before their Asian film releases, but sticking Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds in front of The Swindlers is kind of mean - I already know that Boston isn't in the cities getting this one even though it looks pretty cool, in part because they're getting the other movie that was previewed (Bleeding Steel), and there's only going to be so much room for alternate fare between Star Wars and the big Christmas releases.

Still - it's a mean bait-and-switch, especially since Along with the Gods is supposed to be a two-parter, and I don't love trying to find and stream Part 1 when Part 2 does get a local release.

Ggoon (The Swindlers)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 December 2017 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Have there been a lot of pyramid schemes collapsing in South Korea recently, or one big one which captured the public's imagination? It's a theme that has recurred in a lot of the Korean films to make it to North America this year (either in general release or on the festival circuit), with The Swindlers the one that seems to offer the most light-hearted con artistry. It's not a bad entry in one of cinema's most potentially-enjoyable genres, even if it is the sort where the audience is more placing bets on which big twist it will have rather than being surprised by that sort of thing.

It opens in 2008, when Jang Du-chil (Heo Sung-tae) made off with two billion won in donations to the "Tree of Life Church" before fleeing to China. At least a dozen people committed suicide in the wake of this, but pickpocket Hwang Ji-sung (Hyun Bin) doesn't think his father - Hwang "Night Fog" Yoo-suk (Jung Jin-young), a master forger - is one of them. Eight years later, Jang is reportedly dead, although prosecutor Park Hee-soo (Yoo Ji-tae) would still like to find the bribery ledger that has been missing since he fled. To that end, he makes use of a small crew pulling small jobs - eye-catching Choon-ja (Im "Nana" Jin-a), tech wizard Kim (An Se-ha), and muscle Ko Seok-dong (Bae Sung-woo) - to keep former Jang associate Lee Kang-suk (Choi Duk-moon) busy while he searches for the book. But Kang-suk has already been conned by Ji-sung, who has acquired a reputation for hoisting swindlers by their own petard - and who saw Jang in Thailand after his supposed death.

Great movie con-artistry can be a paradoxical thing, a delicate clockwork mechanism whose individual pieces are nevertheless bold and flashy, although there's some argument over whether it's better to watch the crew work for their payoff or reveal that everything was part of the plan. It would be telling to reveal which way rookie writer/director Jang Chang-won goes with that, but in either case, his construction is a bit off. There are several moments in the movie where an attentive member of the audience will notice that he's skipping over something he might have chosen to show in a similar scene a few minutes earlier, being obviously furtive when he should be hiding clues in plain sight. He's got a good story, although maybe one that's a little more complex than need be.

Full review on EFC.

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