Five men receive an anonymous invitation to participate in a bank robbery. After the heist, four young men return to an abandoned warehouse to meet with their older leader, only to find a charred body and briefcase. This uneasy alliance of strangers quickly breaks down as confusion, suspicion and fear lead to violence. Who hired them to complete this job and how will they protect themselves?
By meshing the crime’s aftermath with a series of well-constructed flashbacks, writer & director Kim Tae-Kyung delivers a suspenseful ensemble piece filled with interesting characters and intelligent hints about how this particular group of men came together. Like pieces of a puzzle, each man was specifically chosen to participate; their pasts intersect in ways that only become clear over time. Through flashbacks, we learn about each man’s history, their behavior, their pain and their scheming. Nothing is useless filler and the pacing never falters.
No one, except for the older leader (whose name is not revealed right away), knows who has hired them for the heist. He won’t tell because they don’t need to know…all will be revealed in time. They are supposed to steal bonds, not cash. The bonds are untraceable and can be sold on the black market. In a darkly funny flashback, he gleefully tells them how to walk, talk, and threaten their way through the whole job.
It is hard not to notice some similarities to Reservoir Dogs. Each man is assigned a name. Although they are not colors (and have no hidden meaning), there is a scene reminiscent of Mr. Pink’s hissy fit as one young thug, Mr. Noh, complains about a tacky name found on his fake ID. We learn about each one of them and clearly see why they would be willing to commit this crime. Then, there is the prevailing sense that this will not end well for any of them. Yes, they get away with their bonds, but they are stuck with a hostage, they found a dead body, they don’t know who hired them, and bonds are not money. However, Puzzle is not trying to be a carbon copy, these little touches are more like nods of appreciation.
Kim dangles many obvious solutions, but still has the ability to make you doubt. There are plenty of cruel manipulations, involving everyone attached to the robbery, that you are never quite sure that you have it exactly right. The ultimate question, the identity of the mastermind that brought them together, is not revealed until the film’s final moments.
Rating - ***
- Jennie Milojevic