By Albert Thai Le
For those who are unfamiliar with the Edwards University Town Center 6, this theater occasionally presents independent and international movies that aren’t as widely distributed among other cinemas around Irvine. Just last Friday, the cinema began showing “The Swindler,” a Korean heist film originally released two weeks ago in South Korea.
The film begins with a financial catastrophe caused by Jang Du-Chil (Heo Sun-Tae), an infamous con artist who faked his death to avoid taking responsibility for this event. Hwang Ji-Sung (Hyun Bin), another con artist, is on the search for Du-Chil because his father was killed to help fake the death.
Cut to a couple years later, we’re introduced to Ko Suk-Dong (Bae Seong-Woo), Choon-Ja (Nana) and Chief Kim (Anh Sae-Ha), a group of con artists who work under Park Hee-Soo (Yoo Ji-Tae), a South Korean prosecutor defending corrupt politicians bribed by Du-Chil. By a chance meeting, the group captures Ji-Sung and learn that Du-Chil is still alive after years of his rumored death. Together, this group must work together to lure and capture this legendary con man before mistrust and suspicion tears the team apart.
The film has several comedic scenes, primarily created through the charm of Nana’s character. At one point of the film, we have Nana attempting to distract one of Du-Chil’s men, Seung-Gun (Park Sung-Woong), at a hotel bar so the rest of her team can finish bugging his room. She accidently ends up drunk, despite being told not to drink by her team, which leads to a particularly comedic series of movements trying to continue distracting Seung-Gun under that handicap.
In addition, the film has some intense moments which juxtapose these lighthearted moments. For instance, we begin with a man jumping off a building in front of his family because he bankrupted them by falling for Du-Chil’s financial scams. In other parts, we have Ji-Tae’s character brutally assaulting Hwang Ji-Sung to exert dominance over him.
While these scenes are not necessarily gory or bloody, they do add a dark intensity to the atmosphere to the film, which to a degree overshadows the more playful moments sprinkled around it. The comedic and dark moments were well performed and added some relative enjoyment upon viewing. But the combination of these two moods into one movie muddles the overall atmosphere of the film and potentially leave viewers needlessly unsure and uncomfortable with approaching the story and characters.
Speaking of characters, it felt that half the characters on the team, particularly Nana and Sae-Ha’s characters, were bland in comparison to Bin and Ji-Tae. I might have missed this information within the subtitles, but it felt like the viewer never had a chance to connect to Nana and Sae-Ha because we typically see them doing the same thing throughout the entire film; this being Nana adding some comic relief to the story while Sae-Ha is simply the hacker that does all the technical work for the team. As a result, I only saw them as background characters for Bin and Sae-Ha’s far more compelling story dynamic, so I didn’t care too much about them as the movie played out.
For a foreign heist film, “The Swindlers” offered a fun time watching how the overall plot played out. It was entertaining seeing some of the actors overreact in scenes where they should, along with witnessing the build-up to the penultimate plot twist for the characters near the end. Despite the muddy presentation of the story and some of its characters, this film offered a relatively enjoyable experience. I’d recommend watching “The Swindlers” if you’re looking to start the month with a fun movie.