A World Without Thieves 天下無賊 (2004)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: N/A
RT Audience Rating: 8.2/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10

A WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES 天下無賊 (2004) - Feng Xiaogang

Theft is the taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. The one who carries out an act of or makes a career of theft is known as a thief. What's ironic about A World Without Thieves is that the film's premise is the exact opposite of the title, if looked at in the literal sense. A World Without Thieves is an award-winning Chinese action drama directed by renowned Chinese director Feng Xiaogang and stars notable actors Andy Lau, Rene Liu, Ge You, and Li Bingbing. It has won the Golden Horse Award (Taiwan's Academy Awards) for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for Best Picture.

The film follows Wang Bo (Andy Lau) and Wang Li (Rene Liu), who are lovers as well as highly skilled professional thieves. On a train bound inland from Tibet, the couple encounters a naive village boy named Sha Gen who does not believe in the existence of thieves. As a result, he insists on carrying his five years of savings worth 60,000 yuan ($7,200 American dollars) with him rather than using remittance. Andy Lau's character wishes to steal the boy's money as a last hit to end their stealing career, but Rene Liu, pregnant with their child and moved by the boy's innocence, decides to protect the boy. The stakes are raised when a separate gang of professional thieves, led by Uncle Li (Ge You) and one of his followers (Li Bingbing), board the train and notices the boy. The film explores the theme of the fundamental human goodness and also humorously addresses the issue of thievery on public transport in China.

Director Feng Xiaogang is extremely talented, and his greatest skill is not just how the film looks, but especially in directing the actors. Both lead performances were phenomenal. They bear humorous dialogue at times when the tone is relaxing and express drastic emotions during times of crisis. Ge You, despite him playing a supporting role, is a renowned actor in his native country, and his talent is brilliantly presented through this film with the help of a great director and a well-written script. Li Bingbing plays the seductive yet deadly thief. Similar to one of her more recent films, The Forbidden Kingdom, her presence in the film unleashes a cloud of intimidation, as if her mind thinks two times faster than the audience does.

A World Without Thieves pushes the theme of human goodness through its script, and in a sense, it has done so successfully but not the best. For a Chinese film, the filmmakers have finally put their attention to the right element of filmmaking. The narrative is not confusing here, the plot is easy to follow, and it builds its own unique tension in a confined setting, a train. The series of "tricks", or "stealing", never once clashed with the moral that A World Without Thieves intended to give. Director Feng keeps the film grounded inside the mind of the boy, naivete but also hope.

The moments in A World Without Thieves where a certain character steals an item are undeniably creative. The hand movements are swift, almost like the way Jason Bourne knocks out an agent. In addition, they are inventive to the point that the audience might question: "How did anyone think of stealing it that way?" Feng Xiaogang not only entertained us because of the characters' quick gestures, but also because the emotion behind each one is diverse. There are instants were we laugh in entertainment when an item is stolen. Others cause our hearts to beat abnormally fast in hope that the item does not get stolen.

Despite the conceptual takes of stealing items are intriguing, they are shot too closely, meaning we are given close-up shots to the point where we are unable to make out who's hand is whose. This is no Jackie Chan movie, where choreography is everything. The cinematography for these crucial moments were pushed in too close to the point that we can guess that the actors did not do the entire physical stealing in one take. Here, there is no evidence of choreography, causing the snatches to lose some of its stylish factor. The first time I saw such a close-up, I let it pass. The fifth time I saw such a close-up, I lost interest in the scenes where something gets stolen. In the end, I end up only caring about who ended up with the stolen item. However, this entire flair of close-ups might be director Feng Xiaogang's original intention, to go in so close that we are unsure what happened, as if we ourselves have something stolen so suddenly. If that is the case, then this flaw is not so significant anymore.

The true drawback for A World Without Thieves goes back to a simple technicality: the editing. The music was shamefully mis-used. The tone of the melodies were contrasting to the tone of the actual scenes. Sentimentally, A World Without Thieves could have been a much more powerful movie, if it was not pulled back by such mediocre editing. In addition, there are a few scenes that should be swapped in their places, meaning a certain scene should have came after another. The cinematography, though, is impressive. The set designs were paid respect to even when the setting is mostly inside a train, and with the help of crisp lighting, the film visually is a treat.

In conclusion, A World Without Thieves is a wonderful film. In terms of an American movie, it still has a few problems to iron over, but it is inexorably superior than at least half of the junk we keep getting these days from Hollywood. As a Chinese film, A World Without Thieves takes Chinese cinema to a whole new height. It is living proof that asian movies have now grown to become more and more polished. It stands as a respected foreign film alongside Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as well as another film starring Andy Lau, Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong inspiration for Martin Scorsese's The Departed. In the end, A World Without Thieves is a rare artistic film that bears high production value as well as high recommendation.

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