January 4, 2014

The Righteous Thief: Robin Hood Has a Family

Steal from the rich. Give to the poor. That's the modus operandi of one exceedingly popular folk hero who has manifested in various forms across various cultures. In England, they called him Robin Hood; in Germany, Schinderhannes; in Korea, Hong Gil-dong. In The Righteous Thief, Jeong Yong-ki's reboot of the People's Criminal, the man (Lee Beom-su) redistributing the wealth is a latter day descendant -- 18 generations removed -- who teaches piano and courts fellow faculty (Lee Si-young) at the local high school during the day then wears black tights, scales buildings and inhales helium to rob shady millionaires at night. Lately, he's developed an obsession with one evil mogul (Kim Su-ro), an absurdly rich businessman who's developed a somewhat fetishistic obsession himself with superhero paraphernalia.

Folk hero vs. superhero? Not really. Since we never really see the needy getting a piece of the pilfered pie, a more accurate description of the central conflict here would be indie criminal vs. corporate criminal. As crookery goes this isn't the most antiestablishment. Asked to testify which crimes are the worst in The Righteous Thief, I'd say probably say, they're the ones committed by the performers, not by the characters. Someone should be slapping the wrists of two stars immediately. Would Kim Su-ro and Song Dong-il please take the stand!

It's not often you see a movie in which two actors define their characters with identical mannerisms. So lazy. So felonious. Is Song, as the prosecutor, trying to steal Kim's characterization of the criminal mastermind? Or is Kim pickpocketing the performance of Song? Who's ripping off whom? Regardless, the mirroring of a shit-eating grin and the echoing of a self-deprecating laugh halves every potential laugh in The Righteous Thief. If I were the offended party, I would have left the opening night party in a fury and headed straight to the nearest bar. There I would've ordered a double.

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