As part of getting in the mood for our Fiasco: HK TPK game, we have been watching a bunch of Hong Kong action movies as well as movies closely emulating the genre. This week we watched two that pair off pretty well: John Woo’s Once A Thief (1991) and Dong-Hoon Choi’s The Thieves (2012).
Both of them are heist movies, so in terms of playing a a game version, all the comments I made in my earlier series on Heist Jobs in Games and Fiction would apply.
Once A Thief stars Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung as Joey, Jim and Cherie, a trio of art thieves who were raised together by the Hong Kong answer to Fagin, the sinister Chow (played by Kenneth Tsang), a master criminal and fence. The three want to get out from the business and from under”Dad’s” thumb, so of course they run afoul of him.
The movie unfolds in a light tone compared to most John Woo movies, with romance and humour as well as action. The first half or so is spent establishing characters and relationships, and showing us how the team works. By the time we get to the first “tilt”, however, a big job falls apart when the thieves are double-crossed, resulting in a blood bath, and one of the thieves ends up in a wheelchair.
The second half, the job-to-end-all jobs, gets a little edgier treatment, suggesting sadness and a hint of desperation under the banter of the main characters. The action also ramps up, to my satisfaction. Points for the action scenes in a wheelchair, and the whole wheelchair-fu idea; it was well done and novel. The second half also leads to a spectacular, over-the-top final battle with lots of destruction, and a not unexpected, but well executed second “tilt.” In Fiasco terms, I’d say that it uses the soft “Aftermath” table from The Fiasco Companion.
We got the DVD from Netflix and watched it with English subtitles; there are portions of dialogue in English and French in addition to Cantonese, which were clear enough that I was able to follow without help from the subtitles.
The Thieves is presented in a very different register, much darker in tone and with more earthy, believable action scenes. Nine specialists from two different teams, from South Korea and from Macau, come together for one big heist; the crown jewel of the theft will be a huge diamond, the coveted Tear of the Sun. But each of the thieves has ambitions, dreams, rivalries, an agenda. Add a greedy fence and a police sting, and we’re ready for a Fiasco.
The movie, in Hollywood terms, plays a lot like a cross of Ocean’s Eleven meets Reservoir Dogs, Leverage meets Heist. It’s got the teams of skilled pros and the daring theft, mixed with greed, mistrust and revenge. I liked that, unlike most Hollywood movies in this genre, we pretty much had gender parity (four women, five men on the team) and that the ages ranged from young punk to grizzled veteran for both women and men.
We watched this streaming on YouTube, the whole two hours and fifteen minutes or so. It’s mostly in Korean but with parts of the dialogue in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese and English as it hops around from Seoul to Macau to Hong Kong. With nine thieves plus secondary characters, many flashbacks, a complex plot, and a lot of scenes with dark lighting and only a glimpse of who is speaking, I found it challenging to follow. This was complicated by the English subtitles that had to compete with Korean ones for all portions of the voice track not in Korean, and were not very well timed with the speech, leaving the viewer to figure out who said what in rapid-fire dialogue. Still, I think I did pretty well keeping up, all things considered.
As a Fiasco game, it definitely would not pull any punches. Many characters meet with a rough end…