It was too nice to update yesterday, so I went to the beach instead.
Here's the last of the festival, which is going out with a whimper.The Taste Of Money
26 May, 2012 | By Dan Fainaru
Dir/scr: Im Sang-soo. South Korea. 2012. 114mins
As deep and profound as a comic book printed on glossy paper, Im Sang-soo’s latest portrait of lust and corruption, power plays and violence at the highest echelons of Korea’s society has all the style and luster of his previous works, with brilliantly lighted spectacular sets, glorious photography, fast paced action and plenty of Korean star power. But there is no real story to tell here, just a bunch of old fashioned, tired clichés spiced with references to various sensational front-page scandals, all of it reprocessed to look like an original script.
Two years ago, Im Sang-soo made quite a splash in Cannes with his new, flashy, version of the Korean classic The Housemaid, a sexy and perverse allegory of decadence and deceit, taking place in a huge mansion which was said at the time to be the biggest set ever built in that country.
The Taste Of Money (Do-nui Mat), which quotes not only The Housemaid (2010) but also Kim Ki-young’s original 1960 version, most probably has even bigger and more sumptuous sets. The story, however, takes the allegory all the way into the realm of the absurd, a farfetched parody woven around the wealthiest family in Korea where every one of its members plotting against the others and every one of its servants lurking in the shadows to get a piece of the action.
The worst of the tribe is Mme Baek (Yoon Yeo-Jeong of The Housemaid fame, in a largely over-the-top performance). She is the desiccated elderly daughter of a decrepit old lecher who puts on occasional appearances in a wheelchair with a sturdy nurse next to him to feed him oxygen every time he gets too excited.
The entire film evolves around Mme Baek’s aging husband, Yoon (Baek Yun-shik), who falls for the Filipino maid Eva (Maui Taylor) and intends to start a new life with her. But his demonic wife immediately sets out to prevent his departure.
Presentable young hulk Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo) services Madame in times of distress and makes eyes at Madame’s divorced daughter and heir apparent, Nami (Kim Hyo-jin). Madame has also a son, Chul (On Ju-wan) who seems to be in constant trouble with the law and who plans to get away with a chunk of the family fortune to start a stash of his own. How all this is supposed to happen, is largely unclear.
In between the gaps of this skeletal plot, nude girls galore run around as they devotedly tend to their customers, every piece of scenery around them - interiors or exterior - seems ripped out of designers’ magazines, and every once in a while there is another blurt of intrigue that makes no sense, whether it is about opening accounts in once place, closing them in another; buying politicians at the drop of the hat or visiting warehouses filled with mountains of fresh banknotes.
By the end of the film there is no doubt that Im Sang-soo is a brilliant craftsman who knows his work inside out and also that he has little respect or admiration for the leaders of his country. But there is precious little here that hasn’t been said before. Size, noise and special effects are not enough, though it is true that ultimately, this kind of portrait could describe not only South Korea, but most other countries around the world.
-------------------------The Taste of Money
By Maggie Lee
Even with such heady ingredients as sex, power and murder, there's little flavor to "The Taste of Money," a trite and tangled potboiler that, despite its polemical pretensions, is just a glorified Korean domestic drama with classier couture and shapelier champagne flutes. Im Sang-soo's dubious follow-up to "The Housemaid" escalates plot and perfs from baroque to rococo without eliciting either sympathy or indignation, instead merely reveling in the insight that rich people are bastards. Pic shot to the top of the B.O. in local release, but the absence of A-list topliners will impoverish its overseas prospects.
Like "The Housemaid," "The Taste of Money" views the corruption of a filthy rich family from the angle of an employee, who succumbs to the clan's material and sexual seductions. Instead of a good-natured maid, however, this time it's Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo), the handsome secretary to the chairman, Yoon (Baek Yoon-sik). Some convention-flouting sexual dynamics ensue (especially in age-conscious, hierarchy-minded Korea), as ambitious Young-jak becomes the boy-toy of Yoon's wife, Keu-mok (Youn Yuh-jung).
An early scene in which Keu-mok forcibly overcomes Young-jak promises more subversive developments than the film delivers, as its focus on the intriguing power balance between an older woman and her young male subordinate gradually shifts to the blander romance between Young-jak and Keu-mok's divorcee daughter, Nami (Kim Hyo-jin), who, according to the helmer, is the grown-up persona of the young miss in "The Housemaid." The eventual need to choose between the two women presents no conflict for Young-jak and zero tension for auds, and even Nami's discovery of her mother's affair fails to build to any turning point or transformation.
"The Housemaid's" story arc is more closely paralleled by a different strand, in which Yoon carries on an affair with Filipina domestic helper Eva (Maui Taylor) under the prying gaze of Keu-mok's hidden cameras. A social climber who married Keu-mok for her wealth, Yoon represents what Young-jak could become, and his relationship with the uncalculating Eva provides the only human touch in the film's cynical world. Yoon's decision to break with his family and the mercenary values it stands for catalyzes a chain of events that nearly turns the pic into a noir thriller, but its lurid and literally operatic resolution sends it sliding back into camp.
From the outset, Im goes beyond merely mocking the sensual decadence of the upper class. Intent on excoriating political cronyism and multinational wheeling-and-dealing, the helmer includes a subplot involving a dirty slush-fund deal initiated by Yoon's son and heir, Chul (On Ju-wan), who is in cahoots with an American businessman (Darcy Paquet) drawn in broad but humorless Gordon Gekko strokes.
Uneven pacing aside, the drama simply lacks strongly defined characters and engaging perfs. In the leading role, Young-jak is essentially a reactor to the intrigue around him, and undergoes various stages of exploitation and humiliation to no cathartic effect; wearing a dazed and miffed expression, Kim Kang-woo seems content to let his rippling naked torso do most of the acting. This leaves Youn to step up with an attention-grabbing but not overbearing presence that balances prima-donna tantrums with stony callousness.
Even more so than "The Housemaid," "The Taste of Money" is as infatuated with decorative surfaces as its protags. The exorbitant set, constructed with studied symmetry in interior design on a 15,000-square-feet lot, is a spectacular exhibit, and d.p. Kim Woo-hyung employs flamboyant camera movements like 360-degree swivel plans even for simple dinner-table conversations. Music and sound are also overdone; for all the technical excellence, one strains to find any organic integration with the narrative or its themes.
Two excerpts from Im's "The Housemaid" and the 1960 Kim Ki-young original which inspired these works come off as tacked-on and self-congratulatory.
-------------------------The Taste of Money (Do-Nui Mat): Cannes Review
by Deborah Young
The Taste of Money is a natural rhyme with a taste of honey and indeed, it’s cash and sex that dominate this icy, stylized tale of two employees of the filthy rich who totter dangerously on the brink of upper class rot. Korean writer-director Im Sang-soo, whose 2010 The Housemaid first brought him to competition in Cannes, revisits the themes of power and the powerless as though making a deliberate variation on the previous film, but it doesn’t seem like he has a whole lot more to say on the subject. Pretty to look at and dressed up with high fashion, amusing characters and stylish sex, the film holds its camp potential always a tempting hair’s-breadth away. When moralizing drama finally prevails, ennui resurfaces, leaving disappointment in its wake.
The uncertain groping for tone is fast becoming a trademark of Im’s style, keeping the audience guessing what strange turns the story may take and how events are to be interpreted. But in the end, nothing very surprising occurs, and the financial thriller promised in the opening scenes, when company president Joon (Baek Yoon-sik) swings open the steel door of the family bank vault before the dazzled eyes of his private secretary Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo), quickly dissolves into a family melodrama, Dynasty-style.
Pater familias Joon was seduced by the taste of money long ago, and has paid for it with a lifetime of emptiness at the side of his elegant but ruthless consort Keum-ok (a coolly villainous Youn Yuh-jung), who has taken the reigns from her ancient-looking father. The latter pops up at intervals in his wheelchair, attended by a burly Sphinx-like nurse, with fine comic timing.
Entrenched in palatial modern luxury in a sprawling home of glass, steel and stone, the family and its help close ranks in their claustrophobic gilded cage. The grown son Chul (On Ju-wan) is a churlish scion of wealth and power, too clumsy at passing out the moneybags to politicians and journalists to stay out of jail. He risks ruin in an obviously iffy deal with a free-wheeling American businessman who wisely trusts none of them.
The one honest member of the family is lovely divorcée Nami (Kim Hyo-jin), who looks perpetually surprised at the nefarious goings-on around her. Her attraction to the strapping “salary man” Young-jak is thwarted by the unwelcome attention he attracts of her mother. The slender, gray-coifed Keum-ok forces herself on him one night in an expertly-shot scene that reverses male-female roles while reinforcing power games.
Keum-ok is madly jealous of Eva, their Catholic Filippino maid with two young children who has won the heart of her husband Yoon. It’s not just a fling, as it was in The Housemaid (scenes of the old and new versions are glimpsed in the family home theater to underscore) but a serious love affair, and she calls in four men in black to prevent them from finding happiness together.
The silently bowing Young-jak makes a good center point, his muscular torso framed in the same meaty way as Eva’s naked breasts. Both are positive, believably acted characters poised between victimization and choice. Too bad the final scenes close proceedings with unsatisfying ease.
Playing a key role in establishing the gilded cage that imprisons everybody, villains included, is the cold luxury of Kim Young-hee and Kim June’s sets, caressed by Kim Sung-kyu’s sumptuous lensing in grays and blacks.