The Taste of Money 돈의 맛
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 114 mins
Directed by Im Sang-soo (임상수 | 林常樹)
By Derek Elley
Fri, 06 July 2012, 09:15 AM (HKT)
Cold, clumsy critique of power and wealth is a victim of its own grandstanding. Asian events.
South Korea, the present day. In a luxurious house outside Seoul lives one of the country's richest families: company president Yun (Baek Yun-shik), his wife Baek Geum-ok (Yun Yeo-jeong), their divorced daughter Na-mi (Kim Hyo-jin) and son Cheol (On Ju-wan). Yun is company president but the reins of power are held by Geum-ok, whose aged father (Gwon Byeong-gil) was once a powerful businessman and whom Yun married for her money and influence. Yun's private secretary is Ju Yeong-jak (Kim Gang-u), from humble origins, who follows his master's bidding while looking for the right opportunity to capitalise on his position. His current job is making sure a US businessman, Robert Altman (Darcy Paquet), is kept happy with hookers, as part of a major business deal that could prove crucial to the family's fortunes. Geum-ok despises her husband's obsession with money, and when she sees him having an affaire with their Filipina maid, Eva (Maui Taylor), on her hidden CCTV, she beds Yeong-jak in revenge. When Cheol is arrested for organising a slush fund for Altman, Geum-ok decides to further punish her husband for his "mistake" in bringing the family's name into public disrepute. Sidelined by the family, Yeong-jak turns for help to Na-mi, who seems to be the only level-headed member.
The sad decline of 50-year-old IM Sang-soo 임상수 | 林常樹's career hopefully reaches its nadir with The Taste of Money 돈의 맛, a wannabe black satire on the corruptive influence of power and wealth in which the writer-director doesn't seem to realise the joke is on himself. Fourteen years ago, Im started gangbusters with the pathbreaking, women-talking-about-sex Girls' Night Out 처녀들의 저녁식사 (1998), followed it with the powerful, grungy youth drama Tears 눈물 (2000), further pushed the envelope with A Good Lawyer's Wife 바람난 가족 (2003), and finally took on South Korea's establishment with the political satire The President's Last Bang 그때 그사람들 (2005). Then, at the top of his game, the rot set in, first with iffy melodrama The Old Garden 오래된 정원 (2006) and, four years later, with the visually splashy but dramatically empty The Housemaid 하녀 (2010). In film-making terms, Im appears to have been seduced by the same hubris and surface trappings as his characters in Housemaid and Money, at vital cost to his onetime strengths as a writer and social commentator.
All of this wouldn't matter if Money was at least entertaining. But for most of the running time it's simply static and boring. The movie earns an extra point for its de luxe look, but beneath all the lavish production design (cold designer sets, in blacks, silvers and greys) and immaculate power costuming, there's zero real drama or characters with which an audience can engage. In its early stages, Money promises to be a financial drama, as the filthy-rich Yun family plans another mega-deal involving a carpet-bagging US businessman; but Im clearly isn't interested in the details, which always remain woolly. Even during the first half-hour, the film still promises to be an icy satire on sex and power and the arrogance of the country's family-owned conglomerates. But as the dialogue becomes spittier, and the situations more ludicrous, there's a total absence of wit to keep the over-cooked mixture afloat.
Marketed as a kind of male version of The Housemaid, the film is nothing of the kind, apart from its surface gloss. In Im's very loose "remake" of KIM Ki-young 김기영 | 金綺泳's visually interesting but dramatically over-heated 1960 melodrama, the central character was an uncomplicated employee exploited by her upper-class employers. In Money, the protagonist Yeong-jak is a willing acolyte of a corrupt company president who's just looking for his chance to get rich too. A major weakness of the script is that Yeong-jak's character is hardly backgrounded and thus impossible to empathise with: buff, humourless and enigmatic, he's also an observer rather than an engaged central character.
In fact, Money is more similar to Im's A Good Lawyer's Wife, which took a laser to a seemingly successful family and exposed its hypocrisies and sexual shenanigans. These are areas in which Im previously excelled as a commentator and, as one of the few South Korean directors who could conjure up a feeling of genuine sexual arousal on screen, managed to turn his themes into involving drama. In Money, however, these same themes have become ossified into pure stylisation: characters talk at rather than with each other, the dialogue is so-so at best, and even the sex is just a series of sexless magazine spreads. When the wife in Good Lawyer couples with a teenager, it's both hot and transgressive; when the 60-something wife in Money beds the 30-something Yeong-jak, it's simply cold and grandstanding. "That was disgusting," says Yeong-jak afterwards, sucking on lemons in the bath.
The actors seem imprisoned by the script and direction. KIM Gang-u 김강우 | 金康宇 (A Better Tomorrow 무적자 (2010), the poet in Hahaha 하하하 (2010)) is okay in a South Korean pin-up way as Yeong-jak, though impossible to empathise with. KIM Hyo-jin 김효진 | 金孝珍 (lesbian drama Ashamed 창피해 (2010)) largely looks baffled as the daughter and veteran BAEK Yun-shik 백윤식 | 白允植 (The President's Last Bang, Tazza: The High Rollers 타짜 (2006)) is called upon to mug embarrassingly as the father. The one performance with any truth is by Im regular YUN Yeo-jeong 윤여정 | 尹汝貞 (the veteran head maid in The Housemaid), as the ruthless mother, but she's still just a puppet of the direction.
As part and parcel of the movie's self-preening attitude, the script is full of references to Im's other works. In one scene, mother and daughter watch The Housemaid in their private screening room ("I've seen it many times," says mother), and in another scene Yeong-jak is dumped in an empty theatre showing the 1960 version (for no good reason). Ju Yeong-jak is also the name of the lawyer husband in Good Lawyer's Wife, while the daughter's name, Na-mi, is that of the family's young daughter in Im's The Housemaid. The English dialogue scattered throughout the movie like a mascot is clumsy and often incomprehensible, except that spoken by US-born, Seoul-based Darcy PAQUET, a Korean cinema specialist and occasional actor, who plays American businessman "Robert Altman".
ContactSales: Daisy & Cinergy Entertainment, Seoul (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 17 May 2012.
Presented by Lotte Entertainment (SK), in association with ISU, KTH. Produced by Filmpasmal (SK). Executive producers: Son Gwang-ik, Kim Won-guk. Producer: Lee Nam-hui.
Script: Im Sang-soo. Photography: Kim U-hyeong. Editing: Lee Eun-su. Music: Kim Hong-jip. Production design: Kim Yeong-hui, Kim Jun. Costumes: Hwang Su-jeong. Sound: Eun Hui-su, Im Hyeong-ju, Kim Seok-won, Kim Chang-seop. Action: Park Jeong-ryul. Special effects: Shin Jae-ho, Hong Jang-pyo. Visual effects: Jeong Seong-ho, Park Yeong-su (Mofac Studio).
Cast: Kim Gang-u (Ju Yeong-jak), Baek Yun-shik (Yun, the father), Yun Yeo-jeong (Baek Geum-ok, the mother), Kim Hyo-jin (Yun Na-mi, the daughter), Maui Taylor (Eva, the maid), On Ju-wan (Yun Cheol/Charlie, the son), Gwon Byeong-gil (No, Geum-ok's father), Hwang Jeong-min (No's assistant), Darcy Paquet (Robert Altman, US businessman), Gal So-won (Ri-ni), Kim Eung-su (company president), Jeong Won-jung (middle-aged man), Hong Su-ji, Kim Ha-yan, Lee Hye-gyeong, Park Hye-jo (housemaids).