Short Film Review: Thief (2020)



Thief (2020), directed by Tong Khoon Mun was the winner of the inaugural Asia-Pacific HUAWEI Film Awards. The grand prize winner bagged a generous cash prize of USD 20,000 and was awarded with APAC Best Film, APAC Best Director and Country Level Best Film. It was selected from a pool of twenty finalists by a pool of regional filmmakers, comprised of the likes of Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians), Rajay Singh (Think Tank), Chris Humphrey and more.

There were over 107 entries for the contest, where participants were challenged to shoot a short film under the theme ‘Empowering Your Possibilities’ entirely on a HUAWEI smartphone. Thief was shot entirely on a HUAWEI P30 Pro.


The film follows the misadventures of prepubescent Ah Di (played by Nathaniel Ng) who devises a plan to recover his pocket money after an encounter with some older bullies. Ng carries the film mightily on his young shoulders, suggesting an inner life for his mostly mute character through his wide expressive eyes, searching glances pursed lips and all. Tong’s restraint in his direction of the young actor is noteworthy.


The film is deeply identifiable and nostalgic for those of us who spent our youth scrimping and saving, only to fritter our pocket money away on prized Pok√©mon card purchases.  The boilerplate Mother character (played by Karen Tan) undoubtedly serves as a surrogate for most of our mothers who have chided us for skipping meals in exchange for childhood frivolities. The saturated images and what can be described as a gauzy vignette-bloom effect belabor the film’s nostalgia.


Visually, the film’s unfussy extended takes ground us well with Ah Di; confident deployment of the Dardenne Brothers-esque follow shot allows us to see the world through Ah Di’s eyes. The only area where the film falters comes during the night scenes, where the muddy image betrays its smartphone low light weakness. This however, is no slight towards the filmmakers; Steven Soderbergh too, struggled mightily with dark muddy images in 2018’s psychological thriller Unsane and Netflix’s sports drama High Flying Bird (2019).

A nosedive down memory lane, the film does not overstay its welcome. It clocks in at a lean ten minutes, with a minute of credits; a fitting run time for a breezy jaunt into prepubescent pilfering.

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