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Original Title:
Tian xia wu zei

China 2004

Action, Drama

Feng Xiaogang

Andy Lau
Rene Liu
Wang Baoqiang
Ge You
Li Bingbing
Gordon Lam
Fu Biao
You Yong
Zhang Hanyu
Xu Fan
Zhong Ping

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A World without Thieves

Story: Wang Li (Rene Liu) and Wang Bo (Andy Lau) are a very special couple. They are a con-team, stripping their victims of money more effective than your average thief. Therefore, they can lead a rather nice life. However, Li suddenly gets tired of this whole thing and wants to quit. In a buddhist temple she comes in touch with religion and wants to lead a more faithful life now. It seems that she wants to change and become a better person. She also meets the naive guy Root (Wang Baoqiang) at the temple, who wants to get back home with the money he earned during the last few years and buy a house as well as find a wife to marry.
By chance Wang Li and Wang Bo meet Root again, who is taking the same train they are. Since Root wants to prove the monks he traveled with, that there are no thieves in the world, he tells everyone at the train station about his money and that he is just waiting for a thief to show up. Wang Bo wants to teach Root a lesson and show him his naivity by stealing the money. However, Wang Li doesn't want him to steal anything from Root, which leads to a quarrel between the couple. Li even declares Root as her new "little brother" and so from that time on the three travel as a group. Still, it's not that easy to protect Root from thieves as the train they ride on is full of them. One of the many groups of thieves on board is lead by Uncle Bill (Ge You) and his right hand Leaf (Li Bingbing). On the train ride a fight for Root's money breaks loose between Uncle Liu and the thieves couple, which winner will be the one who demonstrates more wit and prestidigitation.

Review: "A World without Thieves" is an entertaining movie, that might sell itself as a drama at times, but still offers a good amount of humor. Without a doubt it's director Feng Xiaogang's effort that the picture looks that good and that the movie proves to be less cheesy than one might have feared. However, for most part the film's success actually lies in the great acting efforts of its two leads.
The story itself might not sound that inventive, but it is presented with a lot of heart and genuine dialogues, which is why we gladly accompany the protagonists on their entertaining and adventurous train ride.

What's making "A World without Thieves" so interesting is the simple main plot around Root, who in his naivity thinks that there are no thieves in this world. Actor Wang Baoqiang is quite convincing in terms of acting achievements, but this doesn't change the fact that Root seems rather artificial. Someone like Root just can't exist in our world the way he is depicted here. This fact alone could have ruined the whole movie, but fortunately director Feng manages with his keen eye for small details and some nice dialogues to sell his story pretty well. The con-couple now has to struggle with what is right and what's wrong, and the opposing party around Uncle Bill brings some action and thrill into play.

Which also brings us to some fights, that actually don't even deserve that name, as they are somewhat different. It's not without a reason that the encounter between Andy Lau and Li Bingbing looks like a little dance, which they perform with small razor blades. Sadly, even though the director is trying to underline the dexterity of the thieves with fast cuts and some inserted special effects in these scenes, it's just these sequenes that feel a bit perfunctory. This is also the case with some other SFX-stuff, for instance the scene in which Wang Bo throws an ice cube into the air. Sometimes less is more and in this case also would have been more believable. But these are just the moments were it shows that "A World without Thieves" doesn't claim to be profound in any way, but just wants to entertain. As already mentioned, you can't deny that the film actually achieves that very well.

Andy Lau ("Infernal Affairs", "House of Flying Daggers") once more proves that he is really a respectable actor, who manages not only to imbue his character with a certain amount of charisma, but also bestows him with a good amount of credibility. Rene Liu ("Double Vision") portrays an interesting character, too, and in the end, even the chemistry between the couple is just right. They quarrel, fight and are mad at each other, but eventually they always have to realize that they suit one another, so that the viewer soon is fully convinced that they are the perfect couple.
Ge You embodies the villian, who actually becomes more and more despicable later on, but shows an astonishing amount of charisma at the beginning, and thus is a welcome change to your usual evil dude. Li Bingbing is mainly eye candy and provides the necessary sex-appeal. To see a little bit more of her acting abilities would have have been great, but, hell, who cares? Among the viewers men will be very pleased by her performance, anyway.

At the bottom line it is the romantic relationship between Wang Li and Bo that represents the movie's heart and stands out mainly, because it isn't a perfect relationship at all, and is carried by very realistic conflicts. Again and again the couple is forced to make decisions in order for them to understand where they are exactly heading to in their life. This rather dramatic story thread works pretty well, but the entertaining and gripping factor is the cat-and-mouse game between the couple and Uncle Bill. Every now and then it might be somewhat predictable what's happening next, but the little game, whose winner is the one who proves more wit, is told in a fitting way and is also the reason why the two hours running time never get boring. The pacing is just right at any time, and the drama and thriller part balance each other pretty well.

Somehow I expected a little bit more substance and profoundness from "A World without Thieves" than what I got in the end. This may be dissappointing in a way, but it doesn't change the good entertainment value of this flick. The train provides a nice setting, which serves the thieves as a playground, that they also can't flee if they have to. At times the story might seem contrived, but good dialogues, a convincing love story, interesting characters and director Feng's eye for what's really important in an entertaining movie make "A World without Thieves" a recommendable film. That's also the reason why you can easily forgive that the movie is more commercial than what you might have hoped for.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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