ASIAN FILM - Article
10:36 - 12th June 2013, by David West

Honour Amongst The Thieves

Records are made to be broken, and Choi Dong-hoon's thrilling crime caper The Thieves smashed Korean box office records this summer. In a country of 50 million, The Thieves has sold more than 13 million cinema tickets, taking over $84 million in the process. The film was chosen for the Opening Night Gala of the London Korean Film Festival, and director Choi and leading man Kim Yoon-suk came to the capital for the occasion.

In the movie, Kim plays Macau Park, the brains behind an operation to steal The Tear Of The Sun, a huge diamond worth $20 million. To snag the gem from inside a high security casino, Park assembles a team of top professionals from Korea and Hong Kong, including Chen (Simon Yam), the agile Yenicall (Gianna Jun), veteran con artist Chewingum (Kim Hae-suk) and Park's old flame Pepsee (Kim Hye-su), freshly released from jail.

The seed for the story was sewn on a visit to Hong Kong. "My wife is a film producer," says Choi. "I went to the Kong Kong Film Festival with her, and we started talking about making a movie in that setting. The space, the environment of Hong Kong gave me inspiration. My initial thought was, 'What if there was a character called Macau Park and what if this Korean thief got together with thieves from different countries? What if they had hidden agendas and what if their plan went wrong?' That was the starting point."

Director Choi and Kim Yoon-suk have enjoyed a long and successful working relationship and friendship that started when Kim was a struggling young actor. "While I was at university, I was in the theatre society," says Kim Yoon-suk. "I was madly in love with the theatre and with acting, and I didn't pay any attention to my original degree during my 20s. After graduation, I became a theatre actor which slowly evolved into working in films."

The two collaborators first met years ago when Choi saw Kim in a play, although Kim was not the reason that the future filmmaker was in the theatre that night. "I actually went to see the main star of my film Tazza: The High Rollers in a play," says Choi. "I discovered Kim Yoon-suk. He had such a good voice and magnificent eyes. That was before I made my debut film, so I thought to myself I'll definitely try to use him when I make a movie. He was good-looking... back then!"

"Director Choi has made four feature length films and I'm in every one of them," says Kim. "In the film The Godfather there is a line, 'I made him an offer he couldn't refuse.' That's what happened. Director Choi made me an offer I couldn't refuse with extremely interesting stories that tempted me. And some very interesting drinks. After I finished The Yellow Sea, we were at the after-after party drinking as you do. I was talking with director Choi and he said, 'For my next movie, I want to make a film about ten thieves stealing a diamond.' In The Yellow Sea I speak a very short piece of Chinese dialogue and director Choi said, 'Great! There is going to be a Chinese-speaking boss thief in this film and you can speak Chinese!'"

With an international cast, it was important for Choi to be able to communicate with his cast. He had some help on set, even if he didn't exactly need it. "I spoke English to the actors from Hong Kong and there would be an interpreter sitting next to them speaking English as if they were interpreting for me! Sometimes when you really get into working with an actor, no words are spoken. That's an interesting process," says Choi.
The Thieves is currently playing film festivals around the world. Keep your eyes peeled for a screening near you!
This is an extract from a feature which originally appeared in NEO 105.

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