Fast cars, smooth criminals, and coupons combine in the slick action film The Con Artists (aka The Technicians). After drawing in one million movie-goers within four days, the film’s success prompted Lotte Entertainment to show it in theaters overseas. This review is spoiler-free!
Kim Woo Bin (Heirs, School 2013) plays Ji-hyeok, a master counterfeiter and safe-cracker. With his eyes always looking for a bigger prize, he’s tempted to hit South Korea’s jewelry district. In order to pull off this major haul, his friend Koo-in (Ko Chang-seok, The Huntresses) recruits a skilled hacker, Jong-bae (Lee Hyun-woo, To The Beautiful You). Unfortunately, they rob the jewelry store of chairman Cho (Kim Young-chul, Voice of a Murderer) whose idea of motivation is beating and then burying bad employees in concrete. Chairman Cho is impressed with their skills, however, and decides to use them to steal millions of dollars from the customs area in Incheon. What follows is a fast-paced cat-and-mouse game between Chairman Cho and Ji-hyeok with each trying to outmaneuver the other for the money, and their lives.
First off, I think the acting was good despite some of the issues I had with the plot. Even though Woo Bin is pretty young, he pulls off being the mastermind of the operation. Ji-hyeok easily gets men much older than him to not only follow his lead, but also call him “hyung.” Hyun-woo was believable as a hacker who was smart enough to destroy a security system, but not mature enough to be above backstabbing. I must admit, however, that I personally didn’t completely believe his acting because the first time I saw him he was screaming while running on an acupuncture mat. Whatever Hyun-woo was missing was made up for by Young-chul who was effortlessly evil. There’s something much more chilling about a bad guy who will calmly tell you what he plans to do to you.
Which brings me to the plot. Although it’s not as obvious from the trailer, there are a lot of cons going on; the criminals are always tricking innocent people and each other. Con artist type movies can very easily fall into the trap of overly relying on a genius hacker who can save the day with a few clicks on his keyboard. But The Con Artists does a decent job of keeping their plan more realistic by using classic criminal techniques such as forgery, disguises, and distractions. Jong-bae does play his role in using technology to solve some of the problems, but the criminals have to use their wits for the major obstacles.
Another factor that tends to plague American action movies is the overuse of guns. Gun ownership is very different in the United States, so it’s almost unthinkable that criminals wouldn’t have them. But because gun laws are more strict in South Korea, fight scenes can be believable, and more interesting, without the weapons (imagine how different some scenes in Oldboy would be if characters had widespread access to guns). The huge brawl with cops versus gang members at the end is much more fun to watch because of the lack of guns.
While the main storyline was good, the movie would have been better if some things had been developed further. A large part of the reason Ji-hyeok wants to outsmart chairman Cho is out of revenge. His criminal mentor was killed by the chairman’s henchmen, and because of this Ji-hyeok wants to avenge his death and protect his daughter. But it just wasn’t believable that he had a deep relationship with his mentor, who didn’t have many scenes and wasn’t referenced a lot. There just wasn’t enough background to support Ji-hyeok’s wish for revenge. So it seemed like money came first and revenge was just a bonus. Along the same lines, it would have been better if chairman Cho’s reason for revenge was also developed a bit more. After all, if he’s willing to break into a high-security area there must be a powerful motivation.
I was happy, however, that they didn’t try to portray Ji-hyeok’s relationship with his mentor’s daughter, Eun-ha (Jo Yoon-hee, Lie to Me), as overly romantic. Although it wasn’t perfect, his need to protect her because of his love for his mentor was enough. Attempts to make it a love story would have seemed forced since she barely had any scenes with him and they had no relationship beforehand. All too often in American action movies a single bed scene is used as a cheap plot device to explain why the male hero is willing to risk his life and burst in guns blazing (he loves her, right?). So it was a relief to see that The Con Artists avoided this cliché as well.
Overall, The Con Artists is a great action film to start your summer off with. With its good acting, fun action sequences, and Woo Bin’s completely random shower scene, it’s no wonder that it was a hit with South Korean audiences. So if you have the chance, check it out!
Movie Rating: 8/10
(YouTube, Images via Lotte Entertainment)