The Taste of Money is Im Sang-soo’s seventh film, and a successor of sorts (if not a direct sequel) to 2010’s The Housemaid. I haven’t seen the latter, so I can’t write much about it here, but it seems clear from this trailer that it’s a thriller/melodrama set in the rarefied world of South Korea’s super-rich.
The Taste of Money inhabits the same universe. Company president Yoon (Baek Yoon-sik, The President’s Last Bang) and his wife Baek Geum-ok (Yoon Yeo-jeong, The Housemaid) live in a luxurious mansion with her father (Kwon Byung-gil) and their adult children: daughter Nami (Kim Hyo-jin) and son Chul (On Joo-wan). Attending to their every need are a gaggle of servants and other employees, including Filipina maid Eva (Maui Taylor) and company man Joo Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo).
Much of the film takes place from Joo’s perspective. He’s president Yoon’s right-hand man, shouldering the suitcases full of cash when there are politicians to be bribed, driving the golf-buggy around the grounds, and handling general butlering duties when necessary. Over his shoulder we see the family’s power struggles and infidelities float to the surface, products of corruption, greed and what one of the characters later calls contempt. Joo’s no innocent, though — he’s well aware of the shady underpinnings of the company he works for, but he seems absolutely willing to do anything he’s asked.
For the first third or so of the film it thoroughly held my attention, as Im developed his characters and their luxuriously well-appointed environs. A couple of subplots with some tantalising potential suggest themselves, but fall by the wayside and remain unresolved, passed over for more scenes of people drinking excellent champagne and the more melodramatic main storyline. This focuses tightly on the relationships within the family, as external concerns — running the company, Chul’s legal trouble, joint ventures with equally corrupt American businessmen — fade into the background.
Story notwithstanding, some of the performances are fun. Yoon Yeo-jeong is imposing as the family matriarch, tough-as-nails Baek Geum-ok, seemingly in far more control of the situation than anyone else. Baek Yoon-sik plays her husband with a freewheeling, disarming flair, and there’s a fun appearance in a major supporting role from Darcy Paquet (author of the amazingly comprehensive koreanfilm.org) as an American one-percenter in cahoots with their son, Chul. Kim Kang-woo’s performance as Joo is restrained compared to the rest of the cast, but that’s because he’s the character is relatively undeveloped for much of the film: he does get a few dramatic moments later in the piece.
The KOFFIA 2012 description for The Taste Of Money summarises the film well with the keywords they list under the the technical and cast data: Money, Sex, Power, Drama. All of these are present, several of them in industrial quantities, but I would have liked a bit more thematic complexity to go with them, rather than an elaborately dressed (and frequently undressed!) big screen soapie.