With Ocean's Thirteen now on the big screen (see the review on page 12), Lau Kit-wai takes a look at an ever-popular genre: the Hollywood heist movie.
Which is the oldest heist movie?
The medium of film relies on deception, or at least a suspension of disbelief, so it comes as no surprise that one of the first narrative films ever made is a heist story about train robbery.
The Great Train Robbery (1903), a 12-minute landmark movie, was directed by early film pioneer Edwin S. Porter. Porter employed innovative film techniques, such as location shooting, camera movements and cross-cutting, to build up drama and suspense.
The final scene, in which a robber takes aim and fires point blank at the camera, created waves of shock among audiences.
What is the most difficult thing to steal?
Throw the question at Danny Ocean (George Clooney) in Ocean's Eleven (2001) and he will probably sing you a sad song.
'Sorry' may be the hardest word, but it is the love of a beautiful woman that is the hardest to win.
It takes the effort of 11 talented underworld professionals - ranging from an explosives expert to a Chinese acrobat - to send Tess Ocean (Julia Roberts) running from oily-haired casino owner (Andy Garcia) back to her ex-husband Danny.
You can't hurry love, but if you were Clooney, you might steal it while making some dough for your buddies. A truly classy performance.
Why never take that last big job?
You are not going to make it. When expert thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) in Heat (1995) asks his partners, all ex-cons turned family men, to join him in his final big score of robbing a bank, you know they are going to bite the dust.
Not only because they are up against a very smart and determined detective played by Al Pacino, whose characters usually have the last laugh, but because they, having so much at stake, must die for the sake of drama. Fate is cruel, but melodramatic heist storytellers are worse. Let's pray for the widows.
Under what conditions will the robbers get away with their crime?
If the conspirators are robbing from fellow criminals or rich guys who are morally corrupt or working for evil corporations, then the chance of a happy ending is strong.
In Inside Man, Spike Lee's only heist movie, Clive Owen plays a thief who tries to blackmail the founder of a bank. The banker made his fortune during the second world war by helping the Nazis.
The film ends with Owen's character slipping a diamond into the pocket of the hostage negotiator who fails to recognise him. It leaves the film on a stylish and jazzy note. Long live Robin Hood.