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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   World Without Thieves, A  


A World Without Thieves

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Director: Feng Xiaogang
Writing Credits: Feng Xiaogang
Cast: Andy Lau, Rene Liu, Ge You, Wang Baoqiang, Li Bingbing
Genre: Drama
Country: China
Language: Mandarin
Year Released: 2004
Runtime: 100 min
Rating: ** ½ (out of four stars)

A melodrama that unfolds almost exclusively on a single train journey, A World Without Thieves offers up a mixed bag. You have to give props to director Feng Xiaogang for coming up with an interesting variation (and a movie vastly different from his past output) – master thieves battling it out in a confined space, but the execution is spotty to say the least, especially the conclusion, which comes across as rather contrived.

Thieving duo Wang Bo (Andy Lau) and Wang Li (Rene Liu) are moderately successful, but inexplicably Wang Li decides to call it quits one day. Her "retirement" leads her to an encounter with Fu Gen, a naVve villager who believes that there is no such thing as thieves. Carrying a large amount of money he saved up for marrying a wife and buying a house, Fu Gen boards a train, not knowing that a band of professional thieves are on board as well, led by the mysterious Uncle Li (Feng Xiaogang stalwart Ge You). Wang Li is driven to protect Fu Gen from the thieves, and boards the train to ensure the caper is not pulled off successfully. Wang Bo, unable to leave Wang Li behind, has no choice but to involve himself in the exercise. Unfortunately, Uncle Li takes an interest in Wang Li’s skills, and intends to convince Wang Li to join his band of criminals, at almost any cost.

Production values for A World Without Thieves seem higher than your typical Chinese movie, and it is a rather good looking film. However, Feng Xiaogang does go a bit overboard with the visuals this time round, in particular the action sequences, which should have emerged looking like ballet performances but end up feeling muddled and near incoherently edited. Rene Liu and Ge You are both pretty impressive despite shorter screen times, but unfortunately the same cannot be said of Andy Lau, whose performance is nothing more than mediocre. This becomes more and more apparent as the film winds down, and Andy is called upon to act in increasingly emotional scenes. It’s simply put, not a good or convincing performance. This is exacerbated by the conclusion, which comes across as false and too manipulative of the audience’s emotions. Not that it’s a bad thing, really – but it needs to be performed with more finesse.

Final Word: A well-filmed movie with several good performances, unfortunately marred by Andy Lau’s poor thespian skills and an intentionally manipulative denouement.