Fantasia Fest Review: THE GRAND HEIST Offers Refreshing Old School Adventure

Sit back and watch a bunch of guys steal some ice.

It's all right there in the title. The Grand Heist is about a heist that is grand in scope and value. When done well, few sub genres have the ability to just pin you down with entertainment as a fun heist movie, and The Grand Heist is exemplary in this regard. I honestly can't imagine anyone not having fun with it, unless they're the kind of jerks who hate to read subtitles. Or are racist against Asian people. So my grandpa's out but the rest of you have no excuse.

The Grand Heist gets so many things right. For one, the big theft is motivated by compelling personal feelings such as revenge and patriotism rather than regular old greed. The two guys heading the mission both have axes to grind with those they rob. We spend quite a bit of time (a little over forty minutes) setting up the wrongs they suffer before we even get into the robbery portion of the film. Normally, such a long stretch would seem indulgent, but The Grand Heist gets away with it, mostly because it never bores. Like with the Ocean's Eleven series, the characters we meet are cool enough that you don't mind just hanging out with them, especially Oh Ji-Ho's noble badass. And it's not like a lot of storytelling isn't going down.

Once we get to the heist portion of the film, things only get better. These movies demand a fun and varied cast of characters to make the heist work. The Grand Heist does not disappoint. There's the deaf mad scientist-like explosives expert who must somehow invent a silent explosive. There's the chubby, flatulent digging expert. There's a chameleon-like master of disguises guy who is useful for spying on enemies. There are even a couple kids involved. No one steps on the other's toes job-wise, and they all have enough character that you don't get them mixed up visually. It's a good crew, and like any heist film, half the pleasure comes just from watching them hang out.

But the best part of The Grand Heist is the target. The gang here isn't out to steal gold (not at first, anyway) but massive quantities of ice, a commodity perhaps even more precious than money but kept locked away as a way to control everyday people. We not only witness officials gouging poor people with ridiculous prices, but The Grand Heist also uses ice to illustrate the ruling class' wasteful opulence. It is interesting to see something so common as frozen water treated with such reverence. And there is something incredibly badass about a plan to steal several rooms full of neatly stacked block of beautiful ice.

The Grand Heist also stands out thanks the relative simplicity of the heist itself. That might seem like a bad thing at first, but I ultimately found the gang's largely straightforward methodology refreshingly easy both to understand and accept as possible. These are not the genius super humans of the Ocean's films. Though outside forces complicate the plan, we are always aware of what should go down next. They throw in a fun little misdirection angle in the end, but it's more about adding an extra bit of joy on top of an already happy ending than tricking you with some previously unknown part of the plan (though it is that, too).

While all this big stuff is going down, The Grand Heist nails all the little details, too. Within our group we have three really cute love stories, a cool apprenticeship, and lots of budding friendships. The film is smart enough to give the Oh Ji-Ho's badass character a wicked foil with this white haired ninja guy he has to fight from time to time, and it is just weird enough to include one scene in which a whole conversation take place between two people who speak through music rather than words.

I only have praise for The Grand Heist. With a relatively modest budget, director Kim Joo-Ho and writer Kim Min-Sung have crafted an endlessly entertaining adventure film, the kind you always hope for but rarely see. In a (hot) summer filled with reluctant heroes and mass destruction, The Grand Heist's story of a fun gang's efforts to steal tons of ice couldn't be more refreshing.

The Grand Heist is an official selection of the 2013 Fantasia International Film Festival.