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1 Aug 2012

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-soo returns with another scathing critique of the hypocrisies of Korean elites.

Original Title: 돈의 맛

Director: Im Sang-soo

Language: Korean

Starring: Im Sang-soo

Cast: Kim Kang-woo, Baek yoon-sik, Youn Yuh-jung, Kim Hyo-jin, Hwang Jeong-min, Darcy Parquet

If you've seen Im Sang-soo's previous film, The Housemaid, you'll know where The Taste of Money is going right from the start. Having made a few films about student activists and dissidents under the Lee and Park regimes, the director has stumbled upon a more successful formula — launching scathing critique at the heart of the Korean establishment by showing just what monsters they are in their private lives.

The gimmick of the former film lies in how every member of a super-rich family ends up abusing an innocent housemaid. In The Taste of Money, the super-rich are at being royal bastards again, this time round with a housemaid and butler being privy to their corruption, vile lusts, and general contempt for the 99%.

Here, the tale centres on a powerful family who not only own a chaebol but also have politicians, judges, and the police in their pockets. They're not only avaricious and corrupt; they're also very nasty and messed up people at best or pathetic fools at worst. They as in every single member of the family — from the doddering patriarch who refuses to die, the son-in-law who married into the family for money but suffers from buyer's remorse, the aging heiress who uses surveillance cameras to spy on her husband's affairs, the grandson who would start a civil war in Africa just for a mining contract... Everyone is rotten and yes, everyone somehow is involved in hanky panky with their housemaids and butlers, who stand as silent witnesses or accomplices to the rapaciousness of their masters.

If you feel this is a little too heavy-going, it probably is. Thankfully, Im Sang-soo has a sure sense of comedy and a fine directorial eye for scene compositions so even if the story is fairly predictable, you'll be entertained by the dialogue and how interesting every scene looks.

I'm not sure if Mr Im is aware of the tradition of the English drawing room melodrama but like J B Priestley's seminal An Inspector Calls (which incidentally just had a revival and UK tour last year), both The Housemaid and The Taste of Money come off much better as allegorical satires critiquing the very rotten ruling capitalist class rather than naturalistic dramas populated with believable characters.

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