Mystery, comedy, action adventure, spiritual odyssey, romance... Feng Xiaogang’s masterful A World Without Thieves is all of these films, wrapped up in one irresistible package. Feng, who really has no competition for the title of China’s Box Office King, directs his most popular - and most substantial - movie yet. A huge hit in China, Thieves attracted its audiences with star power, showcasing three of the Chinese speaking film world’s most bankable stars: mainland China’s Ge You, Hong Kong’s Andy Lau, and Taiwan’s René Liu Ruo-ying. The audience receives not only the expected comedy and adventure that a top-of-the-line Chinese commercial film now offers: Feng sweetens the deal with an unexpected philosophical heft, and depth of feeling that manages to be genuinely moving while avoiding sentimentality.
Wang Bo (Lau) and Wang Li (Liu) have been long-term partners, in life and in high-class extortion. After their final caper, they embark on a cross-China train ride. Also on the train: a sweetly innocent Buddhist temple painter, Root, whom Li has taken under her wing; and a band of highly professional thieves, led by mastermind Uncle Hu Li (Ge). Root, unaware that the train is loaded with competing malefactors, has naively announced that he’s carrying all his savings home to pay for his wedding. A complex set of shifting loyalties plays out in unexpected ways as Bo and Li vie against Hu to protect or despoil Root.
Offering breathtaking Gansu (in Western China) scenery, rhapsodic montages, bravado action set pieces in and on top the train, a sophisticated musical score, plus Feng’s trademark sharp verbal wit (this time mostly in the mouth of Ge You), the film’s abundance virtually guarantees its broad-based appeal. At its heart, though, is the chemistry between René Liu’s tender sincerity and Andy Lau’s charismatic brio, whose terrific teamwork makes Thieves soar.