After coming to Korea, this is a series of movies that remind me of the American mid-80s to early 90s cinema. Since that age was a pretty formative period of my life and my cinema viewing library, I have lots of nostalgia. However, since being in Korea, I feel that I want the nostalgia and not actually people to make those movies again.
I am not sure why it is so. In a way, I think that, since the American mid-80s to early 90s cinema has been long dead and beautifully embalmed by a master mortuary specialist in my mind, I do not want someone to tarnish that memory.
I had gone to its funeral, and it was lovely!
It is like seeing former masters of an art form trying to regain their honor long after their prime has gone. It is an ugly sight that no one likes to see.
Francis Ford Coppola, anyone?
Even if the outcome is decent, it does not really work since the world has moved on. There is no longer a place for them in the world of the living. It is worse when the outcome is so bad you cannot imagine that this person was a master once.
Why am I saying this?
“The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) is so much of a generic example of the heist movie genre that had their heyday during the American mid-80s to early 90s cinema and has been tarnishing its former glory in the slums of direct to video market during the 2000s. As a movie being made in 2014,
“The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) is not a particularly stellar example of a direct to video movie of the same genre. Before I bash this movie more, let’s go over the plot. It has been a few days since I saw the movie, and all the absolute gold insults I had about the movie are fading away. The movie itself is also very forgettable.
Minor spoiler alert!! Will avoid specifics—no revealing the secrets behind the magic here even though the magic trick is bad. In any case, you would not really care if you see the movie.
“The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) is your generic collection of all the clichés and tropes you have seen of the heist movie genre. Let’s call him the “Guy,” our lead protagonist has this one final job left to do before he can retire. This is an odd turn for the character as the actor, Kim Woo-Bin, who is playing him, is 25 years old and had played a high school student in the Korean drama “The Heirs” (2013) last year.
It is too young of an age for the character’s motivation to work well, and this is amplified by the fact that he basically gets no character development at all. But it is the trope of the genre. This is not a serious issue compared to the other issues.
So, at this point, with the job of a lifetime ahead of you, the most obvious thing to do is the gather a crew. In “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014), this is compressed to gather a single computer hacker. Yes, you need a hacker in all modern heist movies since it is Computers, and you need someone to type on a few keys and say awkward techno-babble. The “Guy” already has a sidekick, and thus, the hacker makes the 3rd man in a 3 man crew.
The Guy, the “fuddy-duddy” old man sidekick, and the hacker
It is another basic cliché that “one last” Jobs never work out as the protagonist wants them to go. Kim Woo-Bin’s character gets involved with the “Gangster Boss” who has his own big score of a lifetime in front of him and needs specialists. You see where this is going.
“The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) is about this heist and the not so “sudden” or even “surprising” surprise turn of events now so cliché in this movie genre.
The Odor of Bad is thick!
The first thing I noticed as the movie started to roll is that the sound mixing is not good as the dialogue is noticeably separate from the other background sounds. This happens a lot when a movie cheaps out on the sound mixing budget. So, the dialogue recorded after filming the movie does not blend totally well with the other soundtracks. It is not terrible but noticeable. This was not a great start to the movie that seems to have a decent budget for a Korean movie.
Being a generic genre movie is not such a bad thing. The bulk of movies that fall into the “heist movie” category are not particularly innovative. They all have decent degrees of genre tropes in them. And you do not need to be too innovative since the “heist movie” genre is actually a movie genre with a pretty small scope. It is essentially about a single magic trick you play on the audience. If you perform that magic trick well, most other sins are forgiven.
The problem with “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) that it has too much cliché shoved in one movie that, oddly, it is not a satire of the genre. You have the cliché characters, the cliché setting; you have cliché heist. I laughed out loud in the theater full of people at midnight when I saw that the gangster boss had henchmen with a scar across his face. What is this? The Three Musketeers from 1993? Where is that Bryan Adams song?
Setting aside the clichés that make up this movie, I can still enjoy a movie like this if it was made well. The problem with “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) is that it is not well made. The quality is what you would expect from a direct to DVD movie to all intense and purposes.
“Heist movie” scripts do not have to be great except for this one thing. That is the trick they pull on the audience has to be good. Just seeing the movie, I know that the screenplay writer shot his/her foot off, trying to be clever. The movie ends up being not. First, the actual final trick is a “double twist of events” type trick, which does not make sense if you put any thought into it. It is overly elaborate, and the movie does not do a good job convincing you that this could actually happen even in a movie world.
It is not that they did not try. The second problem with the movie is that the movie is just boring for most of the part. While watching the first two acts, I wondered why these unnecessary scenes of dull stuff happening were in the movie. At the end of the movie, I knew why those scenes were in the movie. They were set up for the “double twist of events” type trick the movie is trying to perform.
The issue is that those scenes not only perform this function properly because of poor execution, but the scenes themselves are really just dull. You could easily cut out 30 minutes of this 116-minute movie and make it a straight forward “Heist movie” without the convoluted attempts to be clever. The result would have been far better than what we got.
Putting on a magic show
Even if you’re performing a tired classic card magic trick, you can still make the trick interesting to watch. David Copperfield, the magician, has made a career based on the presentation of not overly innovative magic tricks.
With “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014), the magician is the director who is not terrible but, at the same time, not great at his job. Most of the scenes in the movie are just ok with not much creativity but not totally unwatchable.
The most serious flaw with the movie’s direction is that the movie seems to be made of a billion cuts. While everything else in the movie feels like a late 80s movie, this is the only thing that feels modern, and it is not the thing that is seen to be a good thing. It does not work well with this movie also.
A magic trick can still be interesting even though both the magician and the trick itself are not really good if you have some decent distractions to hide these facts. This usually comes in the form of the magician’s female assistants. This is figuratively true for “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014).
There is a reason why I said figuratively here. There is one female character in this movie. She is played by Jo Yoon-Hee (조윤희), and she could have been a nice distraction since she is lovely. However, she is in this movie for less than 10 minutes total and has literally no function in this movie that makes sense. The movie tries to link her to the “Guy’s” motivations but fails terribly at it.
This is the nail on the coffin for this movie.
Lack of 3-dimensional characters
“The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) almost has zero actual characters with any dimension in this movie. The other members of the protagonist’s crew are just archetypes. The“fuddy-duddy” old man sidekick is just there to perform a function. His character is a mix between British actor James Corden from “Begin Again” (2014) and Tom Arnold from “True Lies” (1994). The “Hacker” is just a hacker kid and nothing more.
The most so-called “developed” character is the “gangster boss.” But that is more of the case of a veteran actor making more out of character through pure experience. Even so, the outcome is forgettable. He would not be included in my list of memorable villains.
Now we have to get to Kim Woo-Bin, who is the lead of the movie. And I mean the lead since he is in a lot of the movie, and everything is anchored on his performance. I had reviewed the “Tazza” sequel starring K-pop star T.O.P. this year.
Here is a review link if you want to read it.
And, it pains me to say that T.O.P.’s performance was far better. I cannot say that he is a decent actor. However, at least, T.O.P.’s performance is far more dynamic.
Kim Woo-Bin is essentially a creepy Ken-doll. His performances are like a mixture of the intentional stiffness of Jude Law’s Robot Gigolo Joe character from “A.I.” (2001) and the creepiness of young jack Nicholson. However, Kim Woo-bin has none of the talent and charisma of either.
Kim Woo-bin cannot carry a movie, especially when the movie is void of other screen presences. The cast of “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) feels like a collection of bit characters you would see on TV. It was simply a bad choice to cast Kim Woo-Bin in this movie. However, it is not all his fault. In many ways, his character is the least defined as his motivations are hidden for most of the movie because it is tied in with the end movie twist.
The character of the “Guy” seems to be a mix between Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Catch Me If You Can” (2002), Neal Caffrey from the USA show “White Collar” (2009-2014), and Mark Wahlberg from any of his crime movies. The result is an uncertain character. For a heist movie, you do not need deep characters, but, at least, you need defined archetypes. The “Guy” is not this. Overall, Kim Woo-bin cannot carry the role, especially as the mastermind of an overly convoluted scheme.
What is good?
Well, the 15 minutes of the actual heist is decently entertaining. It has explosions, a ticking clock, more explosions, and a badly choreographed car chase scene. At least it is not as boring as the other parts of the movie.
It is difficult to name anything else as the others are mediocre at best and bad at worst. Jo Yoon-He could have brought in more of a love story into the movie, but she is only in the movie for 6 minutes or so. There is a bubble bath scene shot at a very odd angle that is hot-ish with her. Since we are talking about fan service… there is an unnecessary shower scene with Kim Woo-bin, but even that is short and uninteresting.
At the end
It is not uncommon for you to see movies in the $5 bin in your local Walmart filled, which you never heard of and with actors that should be in better movies. Well… it is more like a 3 for $5 bin. “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) is your typical Direct to video movie except that it was made in Korea and staring Kim Woo-Bin. Don’t even bother with Jo Yoon-Hee. If you end up catching it on TV one night, you would say that it was mediocre but not a total waste of time.
It is doing fairly well at the box office in Korea, with 2.25 million tickets sold now. That is 3 times more than what “The Royal Tailor” is doing, which is a huge flop here.
Here is a review of The Royal Tailor”!
If I would ask whether “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” (2014) is better than “The Royal Tailor,” I would have to say that, even with its serious flaws, “The Royal Tailor” is at least one category higher for the sum of talent put into the movie compared to “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect.” “The Con Artists / Criminal Architect” is basically what you get for essentially making a direct to video movie.
Thus, since I was bored with most movies, I will have to give it a C. Only watch if you love Kim Woo-bin!
Score: C or 4.5/10