Its pretty safe to say that ever since 2012’s Ocean’s 11 inspired South Korean heist caper The Thieves took off at box offices worldwide that the South Korean film industry has desperately tried to replicate the formula that made it a massive success, with diminishing returns. First time director Chan Won Jang, who also wrote the film, tries to throw his hat into the ring with his caper film The Swindlers, casting Chan-wook Park regular Ji-tae Yu to help cement the film.
Years after the death of his father, a swindler in his own right, Hwang Ji-sung (Hyun Bin) is busy pulling scams of his own, trying to lure out the man who murdered his father. During one con he comes under the radar of a Special Prosecutor named Park Hui-su (Yu), a man with lofty ambitions and secrets of his own to hide. With the help of Park’s put together crew of swindlers, that run cons on the side for Park when he needs to go around the law, they team up and set out to lure into the open the once thought dead man behind Hwang’s father’s death, who Park also wants for more personal reasons. But when you’re in bed with swindlers, nothing is ever quite what it seems.
The Swindlers follows a very familiar layout and is clearly targeting the same crowd that ate up The Thieves like gangbusters. The only issue here is the story and the final swerve, or ‘twist’, don’t play out nearly as effectively or as sound logically than the previous film. Director Jang even uses the similar musical driven montages and fast cuts and reveals to let us in on what is really happening. It’s an all too familiar pattern, but The Swindlers isn’t the only film to follow this pattern to be fair, just the most recent.
The real place where the film falls flat though is in the final act reveal where everything is supposed to fall into place and reveals the characters true intentions all along. It layouts out an extremely convoluted revenge scheme that is made up of massive jumps in logic and believability as well as improbable coincidences that all lead to the “perfect trap”. The result is a reveal sequence right out of Scooby Doo that falls with a massive thud. Sadly, the real losers here are the ensemble cast, as they have a great energy and seem to work together well but are under serviced by the script and directorial execution.
Not a total loss due to the great chemistry exhibited by the cast, The Swindlers nonetheless underwhelms and under delivers on its goals. The film ends with the lead into a direct sequel before the final credits, a bold and unabashed swagger laden footnote that the film will earn and deserve a sequel. And while the lackadaisical results of this film will make many wary that a sequel will ever be greenlit, the great chemistry between the cast kind of makes me have better hope for a follow-up, we can just hope and pray there’s a much better script behind it.