Film Review: The Swindlers

An enormous fraud that ruined many lives leads to an elaborate payback scheme in a barely comprehensible time-waster from Korea.
Specialty Releases

Flashy but derivative, The Swindlers puts its photogenic cast in a series of showdowns that barely connect to each other. The result is a flimsy crime thriller whose every turn feels phony.

A nine-minute prologue introduces three different con men: shadowy financier Jang Doo-chil, who disappears with the loot from a Ponzi scheme; Hwang Yoo-Seok, a veteran cheat known as "Night Fog"; and his son Hwang Ji-sung (superstar Hyun Bin), who vows revenge after discovering his father's corpse.

Writer-director Jang Chang-won then brings on several more con artists, including hotheaded Ko Seok-dong (Bae Seong-woo) and sexpot Choon-ja (singer Nana), a bunch of crooked politicians, and Park Hee-su (Yoo Ji-tae), a ruthless, corrupt prosecutor who knows more about Jang than he lets on.

Turns out Jang, after faking his death in China, may still be around, laundering millions through Korean casinos. Park enlists Hwang to set a trap for Jang, but since no one can be trusted, their schemes go awry.

The Swindlers has style to burn, with Jang Chang-won engineering shots that shift smoothly through as many as four separate planes of action without apparent edits. His crew clearly worked overtime. Getting a character to answer a telephone can take up to six setups, and hardly a scene goes by that doesn't involve both crane and handheld shots.

The movie's effects may be seamless, but its story sputters aimlessly. The plot dangles red herrings, false twists and double-crosses, but can't help telegraphing every reversal and betrayal in the story. As a result, the "surprise" reveals—just about the only essential in con-man movies—fall flat.

As in the Now You See Me movies, very little is ever actually at stake in The Swindlers. Relationships are empty, humor is strained, action is pointless, tricks are obvious, and the entire idea of watching second-rate crooks cheat each other very quickly grows tedious.

Click here for cast and crew information.