The Movie Waffler New Release Review - The Taste of Money | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - The Taste of Money

The corrupt underbelly of a Korean business dynasty is exposed.

Directed by: Sang-soo Im
Starring: Yun-shik Baek, Hyo-jin Kim, Kang-woo Kim, Youn Yuhing, Maui Taylor

Coming on like 'Goodfellas' meets 'The Borgias', with just a hint of drawing room farce, Sangsoo’s film is not lacking in ambition. Whether it will find a western audience, however, is another matter. Dealing with a Korean business dynasty who are Masters of the Universe and exposing the degeneracy and decay under the surface, Sangsoo's film is treading well worn ground. In an Era of Bernie Madoff and the worldwide financial collapse, the idea that those in power are corrupt, venal and at best untrustworthy and at worse criminal is not as shocking a revelation as the director may think.
The film deals with Joo Youngjak (Kangwoo) a factotum for the Baek family who is entrusted with delivering pay off’s to business associates and assisting in the blackmailing of those who get in the way of the family's unscrupulous practices. Joo’s life is complicated by his burgeoning love for his boss’s daughter and also the attentions of her mother, who is out for some sort of revenge against her wayward husband, who is having an affair with their maid. It’s business thriller played out as farce, blackly comic but lacking a satirical edge. The targets feel obvious and the sexual politics are either queasy or bluntly misogynistic.
The ostensible head of the family is Yoon (Yoonsik), although his lady Macbeth wife Keumok (Yuhung) would appear to be the real power behind the throne as the whole Baek enterprise is funded by her ailing father. For a film dealing with the intricacies of financial power, you would expect a more incisive view of the structures of Korean business. What we get is more the sexual intricacies of those in power. Yoon’s trysts with Eva the Maid (Maui Taylor) are supposed to be ones of passion and mutual love, but sticking your hand up a servant's skirt seems more abuse of power rather than uncontrolled lust. When Keumok makes sexual advances on Joo as a way of revenge it is played as comedy grotesque, a sniggering look at the old lady trying to bed the hot young lead which is less amusing, more horrendous misogyny.
What makes it a more enjoyable experience is in the directorial control and Kubrickian camerawork, that is both precise in its spatial geometry and claustrophobic in the way that the house is the primary orbit around which the drama unfolds. Any problems occur when people literally leave the Baek fold. Toon’s attempt to leave his wife and move to Manila with his maid is punished with extreme prejudice. Joo’s disillusionment with the family and his efforts to aid Eva are also dealt with violently.
This is a film that falls between two stools; not smart enough to deal with the financial skullduggery in any meaningful way and not full throttle enough in its expose of the depravity and corruption of those holding the strings of power.
A couple of points sprang to mind whilst watching this. Why is the American businessman in this called Robert Altman? And why is he acting as though English is not his first language? And is the Grandfather's female assistant/enforcer supposed to look like Kim Jong-il or is that just me?
It makes a change to watch a Korean movie that is not dealing with ultra violence or horror being released but I can’t see this breaking out to a wider audience.

Jason Abbey