Like the title and poster suggest, basically The Grand Heist is about a group of ‘thieves’ working together to.. steal something. Think Ocean’s Eleven, set in the Joseon era. Cha Tae Hyun’s Lee Deok Mu is a son of a minister and his concubine, and with such status he is denied the chance to work in the ministry. Yet even though he can still hold a respectable position, he spends his time leisurely reading and selling books instead. At the time, ice is a valuable commodity, managed by the government which is responsible for distributing blocks of ice to the whole country. One of the ministers, Jo Myeong Su, is eager to monopolize the business and is also planning to get a puppet king on the throne to succeed the recently deceased king. In an attempt to destroy Deok Mu’s father’s—one of the ministers siding with the King’s righteous son and successor—career, Deok Mu is framed and thrown in jail, where he meets Oh Ji Ho’s Baek Dong Soo, a loyal chief guard of the royal ice storage whose crew have just been killed by Jo. The guys then plans to get back at Jo, to destroy his career and reputation once and for all by stealing the protected ice blocks, which is his responsibility, during the time where the empire needs it most—the inauguration ceremony of the deceased King’s son.
To accomplish this mission, Deok Mu and Dong Soo first finds their moneyman, Soo Gyun, played by Sung Dong Il, who is always scene stealing no matter how ubiquitous he is in the Korean cinema. After that a bunch of crew starts to join—a half-deaf explosives expert, a spy, a rumor-spreader, a grave digger, a transport specialist, a master of disguise and lastly Dong Soo’s sister, whos is Deok Mu’s love interest, joins as a diver. What comes after is a rather long and uninteresting journey until the big heist happens in the end.
The Grand Heist tries to offer some twists and surprises along the way but none of them really works. Ever since the movie starts, everything feels predictable and flat. The setting of the movie seems to be able to give it a different touch at first, but it turns out not helping at all. The comedy approach works sometimes but then again, it’s not that funny either. The big heist in the end is not bad, but the long wait before that is enough to bore the hell out of you. None of the characters are really engaging and being so comical, they feel very recycled. I come to realize that repeating jokes is a must in Korean comedies, and don’t forget to do a gazillion fart jokes as well.
The look of the movie is sure well-made, but it’s just so hard to stay interested for two hours. It’s understandable that the movie is not intended to be something sophisticated but it’s not even fun. Cha Tae Hyun is a good leading man, though, being able to draw laughs quite effectively. And Sung Dong Il might be everywhere and you might think you are starting to get sick of him, but he still brings it anyway. Aside from that, there’s nothing much to enjoy. I read that the jokes involve lots of clever wordplay but that’s probably lost in translation. If you’re in the mood to enjoy a good heist, go see The Thieves instead. Now that’s a fun ride.
The Grand Heist was screened at the 2013 Korean Film Festival.