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Bo, a master pickpocket from Hong Kong, and Li, a femme fatale grafter from Taiwan are partners in crime and passion. We join the couple as they end a cross China thieving trip and Li has suddenly decided to call it quits. Things look bad for the couple. It is at this crossroad in their lives that the on-the-rocks couple runs into Fu Gen, a humble peasant with a whole lot of money in his pocket.

World Without Thieves, A
A World Without Thieves is another in a long line of  gorgeously shot and beautifully acted modern Chinese films that all but entirely failed to interest me. The characters are so filled of angst and slow motion, the morals are saccharine enough to cause cavities, and the story carries on for about twenty minutes longer than it really should. The plot has no organic thrust, it’s just a bunch of stuff happening, and though there are plenty of clever moments there’s nothing original either.

I’m thinking of two films in particular that cover almost all of the same bases rounded by A World Without Thieves: John Woo’s Once a Thief (which was remade for television), and Johnny To’s Yesterday Once More (which I reviewed at the beginning of my career). Once a Thief is one of my favourite Woo films, and one that handles the romantic thieves angle with Woo's patented Westernized slant. Like most of Woo’s good Hong Kong films it filters classic American moulds through a highly stylized Eastern prisms. Yesterday Once More does something similar, and pulls its plot tauter. Perhaps I just don’t have the right brand of clemency for real Chinese storytelling.

Andy Lau plays another lovable rascal, only this time I didn’t really like him. His emotions in the film are all too convenient, and the actor’s shtick is wearing thin for me. The rest of the cast, including Rene Liu, is fine, but none of the characterizations struck me in any way, positively or negatively. These aren’t so much characters, but feelings and expressions—this guy is anger, this guy is arrogance, this woman is sexuality, this woman is guilt, and so on and so forth.

World Without Thieves, A
But I have to admit that all these roughly defined characters and dreamy images make for an exceedingly romantic experience. The film’s first act (which thematically is almost entirely extraneous) dances on the edge of pure visual poetry. The screen is with painterly colours and images that appear dance to the soundtrack. It would be interesting to see what director Feng Xiaogang could do without dialogue and linear storytelling. His control over the film’s micro action sequences is impressive. Unfortunately, unlike House of Flying Daggers or Suspiria, this pretty and controlled imagery isn’t enough for me to overlook bland and uninspired storytelling.


A World without Thieves is a very, very colourful motion picture. I’m talking every colour in the Crayola box here (and bright ones too). The pallet is mostly warm once our protagonists find themselves aboard the train, creating an artificial, but not at all displeasing motion picture experience. This transfer is sharp and bright, but to occasional detriment as facial highlights are sometimes blocky. I can’t tell how much of the blown out look was intended, but I assumed it all was…until I watched the behind the scenes featurettes, which are far less bright and warm. A quick glance at the screen caps for DVDActive’s other World without Thieves review (by Bodhi Sarkar, quoted on the cover of this very DVD) tells me that perhaps Tartan has over-cooked this particular spicy dish.

World Without Thieves, A


Gigantic DTS drums, that’s what you’re gonna get here. Tartan takes the ball to the hole with this loud and brash DTS 5.1 track. The sound is as warm as the visuals, and most of this warmth is found in the eclectic score, which moves freely between be-bop, salsa, classical, and traditional Chinese music. The film mostly takes place on a train, so there aren’t many bombastic sound effects, but plenty of ambient noise. The stylized action scenes, which are mostly musical, feature some hyper-realistic motion sounds, which make up the majority of the surround and stereo effects that aren’t related to music.


Under extras you’ll find a selection of deleted scenes. Considering I though the film ran a little too long to begin with, you won’t be hearing any protests from me about the fairness of their deletion. The scenes are mostly character development stuff, but none of them really tell us anything about the A-characters we didn’t already know. Some of the supporting cast gets a little boost, but overall the scenes, totalling only about five minutes, are unnecessary window dressing.

The behind the scenes featurette is actually a series of one-to-two minute TV promos set back to back. It’s fluffy and short, but more insightful than the average made-for-TV promo. These elongated ads are followed by a regular trailer, a photo gallery, and trailers for other Tartan releases, the classier ones.

World Without Thieves, A


It looks pretty and has some good performances, but personally I found A World without Thieves to be nothing more than a decent diversion. Fans of Lau and Liu will probably be in hog heaven, but for my robbers in love fix I’m leaning more towards John Woo’s underappreciated Once a Thief, or Lau’s more touching but less stylized  Yesterday Once More. A good movie, but not one that appealed to my particular tastes. This is a good looking and sounding disc, though I’m not sure about the accuracy of the colours, and the extras are pretty average.