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Delving into psychology of crooks

2004/04/07 Source

To pull off a fraud smoothly, being clever and wicked is not enough; meticulous preparation and almost unlimited patience are in order. "The Big Swindle", directed by Choi Dong-hoon, touches on that truth in a sophisticated style that is rare for a Korean heist movie.
The film opens with a car chase as Choe Chang-hyuk (Park Shin-yang) flees from police after defrauding the Bank of Korea using counterfeit bank checks. By posing as bank officials, Chang-hyuk and his cohorts have made off with 5 billion won. The young criminal dies when his car plunges off a cliff. The big question is: Where is the money?

The film was inspired by a true story, according to the director. In 1996, a similar swindle occurred at the Bank of Korea in Gumi and the culprits escaped with 900 million won. They remain at large.

As expected, the film follows the whodunit format, challenging moviegoers to guess who is cheating whom. Chang-hyuk, fresh from prison after serving a sentence in connection with another fraud, first approaches Mr. Kim (Baek Yoon-shik), one of the most notorious swindlers in the nation. As the Korean title ("Crime Reconstructed") suggests, the film relies on flashbacks to piece together what happened before the actual crime.

The scheme is to cheat the Bank of Korea by forging the checks and cashing them disguised as employees of a commercial bank. They stand a fair chance of success because the central bank regularly hands out cash to commercial banks in return for such checks, settling the transactions later.

Talkative drug addict Ul-mae (Lee Moon-shik), womanizer Kim Chul-soo (Park Won-sang) and expert counterfeiter Gasoline (Kim Sang-ho) join the ring and work on the plan.

With composure, Chang-hyuk and his co-swindlers enter the Bank of Korea and get the money. Everything goes perfectly until a phone call from a mysterious woman alerts a bank official, who notifies guards. That prompts the car chase.

Police investigator Mr. Cha (Chun Ho-jin) grills Ul-mae and catches Gasoline. But the whereabouts of Mr. Kim and the money are still elusive. Mr. Cha meets Chang-ho, Chang-hyuk's older brother. He is an extremely shy person who has written a novel and owns a bookstore. Meanwhile, Suh In-kyung (Yum Jung-ah), a self-styled femme fatal who has had an affair with Chang-hyuk, learns that the older brother is set to benefit from Chang-hyuk's life insurance policy. She schemes to cheat the seemingly warm-hearted book lover out of his money.

Overall, the film's scenario is solid and reliable. The plot is well-crafted enough to maintain the suspense for the Korean audience, which is rarely treated to crime thrillers amid the glut of lame romantic comedy flicks.

But it is hardly convincing that Mr. Cha fails to garner a lead about the mysterious case even after he meets the older brother, who bears a striking resemblance to the dead swindler.

Park Shin-yang plays both Chang-hyuk and Chang-ho, which gives the audience a crucial clue about where the film will go. Park surprises viewers with his versatility as he switches between the roles of the devil-may-care swindler and the timid bookshop keeper, in sharp contrast with his performances in previous films.

Um Jeong-ah, who belatedly jumped onto the silver screen with "A Tale of Two Sisters" last year, shows off her radiant charm, creating some memorable footage as a temptress.

The film is also peppered with dialect and jargon used by criminals and swindlers. The underground language is a bonus for the audience, though its delicate nuances will certainly get lost if the film is translated into other languages.

A narrating voice at the end of the film says fraud depends not on technique but on a psychological game:

"Once you know what he wants or what he fears, the game is over", Park Shin-yang says. If you get curious about which brother he is playing, Chang-hyuk or Chang-ho, the director certainly knows what the moviegoers want - or fear.

By Yang Sung-jin

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