Director: Ham Tran
Producer: Estela Valdivieso Chen
Cast: Kate Nhung, Thanh Pham, Petey Majik Nguyen, Suboi, Jayvee Mai, Lam Thanh My, Teo Yoo, Veronica Ngo
Running Time: 110 min.
By Kyle Warner
Before we get to talking about what kind of movie Bitcoin Heist is, I’m going to start off the same way that the film does by attempting to explain what bitcoins are. Bitcoins are a digital currency with no central repository and no national fingerprint. It’s a peer-to-peer exchange system with a public digital ledger that all users are expected to help maintain. Bitcoins are encrypted and untraceable, as far as I understand, and are a favorite form of currency on the Dark Web for hackers and all manner of other secretive professions.
Bitcoins are flashy, mysterious, and new to the general public. And we’re just starting to hear more about Ransom Ware and the Dark Web this year in the news. All three of these new internet-based concepts figure into the Vietnamese thriller Bitcoin Heist. And in that respect, I gotta give writer/editor/director Ham Tran (Journey from the Fall) some credit, because his Bitcoin Heist makes pretty good use of the new tech to tell his story. With the exception of perhaps TV’s Mr. Robot, I’m unaware of other dramas that have featured the tech so prevalently for storytelling purposes. It’s the sort of thing you can imagine Hollywood could’ve gotten on top of, thrown an A-List movie star on the poster, and called it ‘topical’ and ‘timely.’
In Bitcoin Heist, a dangerous Dark Web millionaire known as the Ghost is being tracked by Detective Dada (Kate Nhung). She manages to catch the Ghost’s accountant, Phuc (Thanh Pham), but not without getting into a shootout that claims the lives of multiple officers and suspects. The police chief – who is also Dada’s dad – takes her badge and gun, saying it was a meaningless sacrifice considering Phuc will only get 8-12 months of jail time for his offenses. Dada doesn’t accept this and goes into Jack Bauer Mode. She throws Phuc into the trunk of her car, tortures him, and then sets about a plan to use him to get the Ghost. But in order to accomplish her plan, Dada needs a crew.
Round up the usual suspects! Let’s see, there’s a magician named Magic Jack played by Petey Majik Nguyen. Oh wait, no, I’m sorry, that’s Jack Magique (enjoy that, it’s the film’s most reused joke). There’s a hacker played by Vietnamese music star Suboi. And there’s a conman played by Jayvee Mai The Hiep, who also brings along his ten-year-old daughter, played by Lam Thanh My, who specializes as a cat burglar. Most the team is forced into joining Dada’s plan against their will, but they’re soon good pals and willing partners in the effort to prove the identity of the Ghost.
The film’s tone is kind of wonky. It’s a goofy ultra-mainstream movie one minute (there’s a ten-year-old girl on the team and only her father thinks twice about enlisting her to rob from a murderous millionaire!), a shoot ‘em up bloody actioner the next (some dude gets gutted in a butcher shop!), and a standard heist thriller the next (more on that in a second). What begins as a fairly tech-heavy thriller about shadowy figures on the Dark Web and secretive bitcoin wallets soon becomes just another run-of-the-mill heist thriller. The gang attends a party hosted by the man they believe to be the Ghost (Teo Yoo). Jack Magique performs his act, Dada is his lovely assistant, the conman plays a waiter, the hacker tries to get into the mansion’s system, and the ten-year-old kid attempts to get past a laser grid like she’s Tom Cruise.
Here’s the thing: as heist thrillers go, Bitcoin Heist isn’t bad. But it’s so dang familiar to what’s come before that I think I would’ve already forgotten all about it had I not been enlisted to write this review. You’ll find the smudgy fingerprints of Ocean’s Eleven, Mission: Impossible, and The Italian Job all over this movie. It’s also fair to say that Bitcoin Heist has a few things in common with the (awful) Now You See Me series, which saw master magicians doing unbelievable, CGI-powered magic tricks to steal from the bad guys. Bitcoin Heist also uses a magic show to pull of its heist, but at least Jack Magique exists in the real world. He might even be a real magician, I don’t know. And sure, Jack’s magic tricks probably play better before a live audience – you can only watch so many card tricks in a movie before you start checking the clock – but at least you’re not asked to turn your brain off when he’s on stage.
I enjoyed the performances. It’s a fun, lively cast. The highlight, to me, was the relationship between the conman and his daughter who he’s regrettably roped into a life of crime. I find a cop who’s forcing a kid and her dad to perform a dangerous heist to be a bit despicable from a character development standpoint, but at least that kid and her dad are a likable pair. Also among the cast is Veronica Ngo (The Rebel), who has a small role in the earlier parts of the film. It would’ve been nice if she’d stuck around longer, but alas, the galaxy far, far away awaits.
As these movies are prone to do, Bitcoin Heist is full of twists and unexpected betrayals. Not all of them register in a believable way. The final act, which unfolds weeks after the rest of the film, takes forever to play out and begins to feel like a mini-sequel that’s been tacked onto the film. Characters can lie to each other, but viewers who know these movies can see there’s an extra trick in the works, and Bitcoin Heist takes too long to deliver on its long windup.
I’ve seen this sort of movie done better before. I’ve also seen it done worse. I don’t think of Bitcoin Heist as a bad film. It’s simply unremarkable, middle-of-the-road entertainment.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 5.5/10