With its jazz-funk score and trust-no-one scenario, "The Swindlers" is an entertaining if mostly routine con-game thriller. Except that director Jang Chang-won depicts a scandal that reaches all the way to a leading presidential candidate, an audacious premise for a movie set in South Korea, whose top elected official was ousted for corruption just months ago.
The story begins with the devastation caused by a Ponzi scheme that, not so unusually for South Korea, involves a bogus religion. The fraud's shadowy mastermind flees the country, leaving behind a lot of politically well-connected conspirators. Their risk is managed by Park (played by "Oldboy" villain Yoo Ji-Tae), a corrupt prosecutor who'd like to see the fugitive dead.
So would Hwang (Hyun Bin), a pretty-boy scam virtuoso who blames the criminal for the death of his father, a master forger. Park and Hwang begin a shaky alliance, supported by three veteran grifters, including the requisite seductive beauty (Nana, a teen-pop star who grew up to star in the Korean-TV remake of "The Good Wife"). Everyone distrusts everyone else, and rightly so.
The movie is grounded in real events, and it makes evocative use of authentic locations in Seoul, Incheon and Thailand. But the action is less realistic and relies on flawless high-tech equipment and impossibly convincing disguises. As it skates through double- and triple-crosses, "The Swindlers" shifts from real-world outrage to a payoff so tailor-made for the movie that it even teases a sequel.
Unrated. At area theaters. Contains violence, obscenity and drunkenness. In Korean with subtitles. 117 minutes.