Andy Lau stars in Feng Xiaogang's crime story about con-artist couple Bo (Lau), an expert thief from Hong Kong, and Li (Rene Liu), a beautiful thief from Taiwan. They travel across China plying their crooked trade until Li decides to break free from her criminal lifestyle. Which is when she meets Dumbo (Wang Baoqiang), an unsuspecting hick returning home to find a wife and get married. As luck would have it, he’s also carrying his life’s savings with him.
So they board a train, along with an assortment of thieves and wrong doers headed by Uncle Li (Ge You) and his gang of misfits. Trust turns to mistrust, loyalty turns to deceit and Andy Lau’s hair goes from unintentionally hilarious to shampoo commercial perfection in no time at all.
I’ve never been a big fan of Feng Xiaogang’s output, so I’m probably not in the best position to review this 2004 commercial hit. The Banquet didn’t do much for me, and the same can be said for If You Are The One, although I do have a soft spot for wartime epic Assembly. The word plodding springs to mind, and though his talent behind the camera cannot be ignored, somebody really needs to have a word with him about pacing. But then, maybe it’s just me. Like I said, I’m probably not in the best position to review this movie.
A World Without Thieves suffers from the same problem as the films that came before it; at just under two hours long it sure takes its time in getting from one station to the next. Not a lot actually happens, and the set pieces (if you can call them that) are never truly convincing. Perhaps you can blame the laughable use of CGI, or maybe it’s the fact that some of the feats are, in reality, rather ludicrous. Whatever the reason may be, A World Without Thieves lacks credibility where it needs it most, and for a film about deception that’s really saying something.
Much of the film takes place on a train, which is fine in theory, but it does become a little tiresome after a while. Not that we can blame the train entirely. Performances are strong but some of the characters suffer the same fate as the CGI trickery. Worst offender is Wang Baoqiang, not only is his performance somewhat grating, the character of Dumbo is less believable than Lau’s wig. He’s too naive, too innocent and just too trusting a fool to immerse yourself in. His inability to act like a real person means that he’s difficult to relate to.
The rest of the cast fare better, and there are some imaginative moments to savour, but A World Without Thieves left me cold for the most part. Lau fans will probably embrace the unusual flavour; he has a habit of choosing quirky movies and themes, even if his choice of haircut defies belief this time around. But then, we are talking about a world of thieves here, where the sleight of hand can change everything. The sleight of hand and a visit to the hairdressers, that is. It wasn’t my kind of movie but that’s not to say it was a complete waste of time.
Fans of Feng Xiaogang and Andy Lau will certainly find plenty to enjoy, and there are some fine performances waiting to be discovered underneath the lumbering exterior, but for me A World Without Thieves was a train journey that doesn’t require a return ticket. Occasionally stylish and occasionally sluggish too, Andy Lau’s hairpiece has a lot to answer for. AW