Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • Korean Films at Cannes 2012 - The Taste of Money
  • by UNA BECK / 05.16.2012
    Director IM Sang-soo Cast YOUN Yuh-jung, KIM Kang-woo, BAEK Yoon-sik, KIM Hyo-jin International Sales Daisy & Cinergy Entertainment


    Director IM Sang-soo’s seventh film, <The Taste of Money>, has been invited to the 65th Cannes Film Festival this year together with HONG Sangsoo’s <In Another Country>. Such a lineup may make some wonder, “Are all Korean men named Sangsoo?” But never mind the name -- the two Sang-soo’s are two very different people, each with their own distinctive voice and manner of speech. While a conversation with HONG Sangsoo and the few abstract words he throws at you could be called a ‘poem’, IM Sang-soo uses fast, direct and specific language, more akin to ‘lively reporting.’ IM is a director unaware of detours, or, even if he is aware, would rather not pursue them.
    The titular three girls from IM Sang-soo’s debut film <Girls’ Night Out> (1998) put a direct and frank discourse about female sexuality on the table long before the arrival of <Sex and the City> and its brunch-time chatter. In that film, instead of seeing the female body as an object, or woman as other, IM incessantly offers “one’s own story about one’s own body” through the mouths of these women. Furthermore, in his film <A Good Lawyer’s Wife> (2003) it is the 60 year-old mother Byeong-han (YOUN Yuh-jung) who readily confesses, “Lately, I’m experiencing orgasm for the first time in my life.” The same character adds, “Life should be lived in honesty. Out front. Following your gut feelings. If not, that’s not living,” words that may in fact be IM Sang-soo’s own mantra, with him using Byeong-han like a ventriloquist. In this way, rather than displaying a gracious and gentle intellect, IM offers himself as a coarse and brutally honest scamp ready to jump at the slightest provocation.
    A Critical Dissection of Korean Society
    Following <Girls’ Night Out> and <Tears> (2000), IM Sang-soo’s third film, <A Good Lawyer’s Wife>, first introduced the themes which also run through <The Housemaid> (2010) and now <The Taste of Money>. It is a film about a family with dysfunctions that cannot compare to any other. There is Yeong-jak (HWANG Jung-min), the lawyer and husband who is seeing a young lover, Byeong-han, the mother who leaves her ill husband (KIM In-mun) to rekindle an affair with her first love, and Ho-jeong (MOON So-ri), the daughter–in-law who unproblematically acknowledges her husband and mother-in-law’s misdeeds while staging her own fling with a high school boy. Without moralizing or preaching some formulaic life lesson, the film dissects those ‘Korean-style families’ that always try to hide or ignore their problems. Rather, it exposes the societal wound in broad daylight in order to offer a specific prescription.
    Always moving forward, IM rarely allows a retrospective turn backwards. In <The President’s Last Bang> (2004), which chronicles the night that former President PARK Chung-hee was shot in 1979, instead of looking back on Korea’s painful past, he documents the final moments of men crazed by power and ambition in such a calm manner that it nears the point of ridicule.
    The Taste of Money, Power and Sex
    Following <The Housemaid>, which was introduced to the world at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival, <The Taste of Money> is ready to do the same at this year’s Cannes. The film will reveal a place that <A Good Lawyer’s Wife> or <The Housemaid> did not speak of or even dare to mention. Opening up a vault full of money to its audience, it asks the question: don’t you want to make love on top of these bills? Taste of money, taste of power, taste of sex. Now it is time to get a real taste of IM Sang-soo.
    In <The Taste of Money>, BAEK Geumok (YOUN Yuh-jung) is rich. Having inherited a great deal of money from her father, she has accumulated power, people and sex through her wealth. Her husband, corporate president YUN (BAEK Yoon-sik), reinvigorates his lonely heart though an inappropriate relationship with the family’s Filipino maid, Eva. In their house also lives the daughter YUN Na-mi (KIM Hyo-jin), a newly minted divorcée following a failed arranged marriage, and the son Cheol (ON Ju-wan), who has turned into a money-obsessed corporate mercenary. Then there is BAEK’s secretary, JU Yeong-jak (KIM Kangwoo), who witnesses all the family’s dirty secrets up close, noting, “This really is a horrible family.” Yeong-jak’s young body is shuffled back and forth between mother and daughter, and he too eventually becomes addicted to the frightful ‘taste of money’.

    An Obscene and Cheerful Piece of Entertainment
    Things we would like to have, things we would like to wield, things we would like to do… There are certain words that become crude the moment they come out of one’s mouth: money, power and sex. However, IM Sang-soo is a person who screams these forbidden words loud and clear. He then makes you open your eyes wide and watch how the words combine and merge. Eventually, in <The Taste of Money>, sexual tension is replaced by the tension of a power struggle, and then again by cinematic tension. IM developed this film when he became curious as to why the ‘chaebol’ families -- those featuring high-ranking executives at large conglomerates -- that commonly appear in Korean television dramas are “always described as evil beings”. The film sharply dissects the “real problem of the chaebol as seen from inside the chaebol,” refusing to seeing it as only superficially evil.
    IM Sang-soo describes <The Taste of Money> as “an obscene and cheerful piece of entertainment” full of humor, something that was momentarily missing from <The Housemaid>. Cinematographer KIM Wu-hyeong, a long time partner of IM from <A Good Lawyer’s Wife>, <The President’s Last Bang> and <The Old Garden> (2006), takes his camera and covers every corner of this ‘pavilion of sex’ that is soaked with desire. This is actor BAEK Yoon-sik’s second encounter with IM Sang-soo since <The President’s Last Bang>. Yet it is no other than the actress YOUN Yuh-jung who is in charge of the thrill that <The Taste of Money> delivers. As the singular ‘muse of IM Sang-soo’, from <A Good Lawyer’s Wife> to <The Housemaid>, YOUN will offer the most sensational performance of her acting career.
  • Comment