Im Sang-soo’s The Taste of Money explores the dark underworld of wealthy Korean society; concentrating on one of the countries richest families. Acting as a satire on the themes of greed, sex and money, the film is also an intense family melodrama where secrets are revealed and fates are locked. The Taste of Money is said to be the natural and spiritual follow up to Sang-soo’s previous film, The Housemaid, where the little girl, Nami sees her nanny kill herself. Nami (played by the pretty Kim Hyo-jin here) returns as an adult; divorced and notably the only person in her family with any morals.
Whilst the strongest thing about the film is the ultra glossy, sexy sheen that each and every scene contains, carefully melting one into the other, the film itself unfortunately has it’s weaknesses and they outweigh the positives. Whilst the story seems like something out of an average soap opera, there is nothing to ever pack the mighty punch that the film is trying to achieve. It spends almost the first half (of two hours) setting up the relationships between the family and their own little sins before actually going into the main storyline itself, just as boredom was about to set in, the film really starts.
The audience are aligned with the young but intelligent, Joo Young-jak (an especially handsome Kim Kang-woo), who has just been hired by the family (who are going through their own money troubles) as a private secretary for Chairman Yoon (Baek Yoon-sik). His wife, the somewhat horrifying and manipulative Baek Geum-ok (played by the frankly incredible Yoon Yeo-jeong) keeps an eye out over her entire family and the household; not only her husband and daughter, but also her son, Yoon Chul (On Joo-wan) and her father, Noh (Kwon Byung-gil). Young-jak is expected to do whatever he is told, even if the business is somewhat shady and quite possibly illegal. For years, the family has been getting away with corruption as they bribe anyone they have to including police and officials to ensure they are left alone.
Chul (Charlie) is in business with American, Robert Altman (Darcy Paquet), both of whom are more than happy to be entertained by hookers and drinking but Chul is gradually arrested for working on a slush fund for Altman. Furthermore, Chairman Yoon is caught by his wife having an affair with the Filipino housemaid, Eva (Maui Taylor), on the CCTV and decides to sleep with Young-jak as revenge. When she learns that her husband is actually in love with the maid and plans to have a family with her, she turns to getting Eva killed.
What The Taste of Money does so succinctly and interestingly is show the tension between the sensuality and eroticism of the film against the dirty, underhanded ways they fight against each other. Each image is stunningly shot, working to represent the sheen that the family want the outside world to see whereas when you look a little deeper, there is something so much more sinister. The stand out acting of the film has to go to Yoon Yeo-jeong for portraying a woman slowly losing control of everything around her; she is horrid to everyone and yet so massively watchable. Whilst she finds it hard to show emotion, this is in fact perfect for a character who is all about the surface and what she can make others believe. She rarely loses herself in the film and this makes for an intense watch.
One scene in particular is so very interesting; when Young-jak admits to Nami that he slept with her mother, the camera remains static and quite far away from the action, extending the depth of field. The two characters are centred in the shot but appear so much smaller than they actually are because they are framed quite beautifully within a landscape, which looks like a painting. The water behind does move calmly behind them but for the most part remains so very still and allows the audience to concentrate on the revelation being made. The distance gives the audience some space from the characters because they knew the whole time about the incident and therefore Sang-soo doesn’t want to make the audience complicit in the drama because they should be debating the story on the whole.
By all means an interesting film and one worth a watch if you are willing to get past the slow first hour, The Taste of Money is a story, which is quite possibly a little difficult to translate outside of Korea. It does achieve its aim in starting a discussion around the corruption of money and does make an interesting point that even with all the wealth in the world, it doesn’t necessarily bring you happiness. Sexy, sensual and erotic, The Taste of Money is a tantalising watch but quite possibly one you wouldn’t return to again.