At first, I was about to describe the wealthy family in “The Taste of Money” as the people belonged to 1%, but then I found a more appropriate expression for these superficial human beings in the advertisement of the film. It labeled them as “0.01% people”, and that is not a bloated exaggeration at all because they are really rich and powerful family. As a matter of fact, the opening scene shows the family/company safe filled with the mountains of wons and dollars in cash. I wonder whether they also have another safe for bullions of gold somewhere in the company building.
The movie mainly revolves around the daily life of these rich people in their family mansion somewhere near Seoul. Thanks to the first-class production design, their big, sumptuous house is one of the best things in the film and it is a visual pleasure to behold. Along with many expensive paintings hung on the walls, its modern interior design mainly using black marble makes it look like a newly opened gallery ready for its opening day. You may want to look around this expensive place with a glass of wine in your hand even though you cannot afford to live there; I personally liked the big bookshelves above the vast living room and the screening room for watching movies.
Recently, the family company has been in some trouble with the South Korean judicature due to the violation of law associated with their recent inheritance process, but the family members regard it only a minor annoyance to be taken care of easily. After all, they are super-wealthy, so all they have to do is taking out some money from the safe and then handing it to the guys who can take care of their problem, although this problem does not seem to go away easily.
Their life and business go on meanwhile. President Yoon(Baek Yoon-sik), the official CEO of the company and the head of the family, and his son Yoon-chel(On Joo-wan) meet their foreign business partner Robert(the critic Darcy Paquet) for the important deal for expanding/securing their wealth further. All are reported to and approved by Yoon’s aging father-in-law(Kwon Byeong-gil), who still exerts his power as the elder of the family and the company. The movie slyly suggests through his attire and words that this old man had done a lot of dirty works for accumulating the family money during his prime. His occasional use of Japanese cannot possibly escape the notice of the South Korean audiences; I wonder what he did for his business during the Japanese Occupation era.
They and other family members are literally strangers only linked by wealth. The marriage between President Yoon and his wife Geum-ok(Yoon Yeo-jeong) has been estranged a lot during the lifetime of silent mutual blame and resentment. Mired in self-hate, President Yoon is sick of being an employee of his wife’s family company. Geum-ok, the de facto head of the household, is not so pleased about his infidelity, though she has been accustomed to it(it later turns out that she took some measure to prevent the possible complication resulting from that). The daughter, Na-mi(Kim Hyo-jin), does not like her family much, but she knows she cannot live without money. In this cold environment, the children from Yoon-cheol’s failed marriage somehow manage to grow up pretty well as normal kids.
We also see the people working in the house, mainly through the eyes of Yeong-jak(Kim Kang-woo), President Yoon’s right hand. There are three female servants quietly moving around the house while not saying a lot. There is also the old man’s assistant(Hwang Jeong-min), who probably knows a lot about where the bodies were buried. And finally, there is a young filipino maid named Eva(Maui Taylor). Her relationship with President Yoon makes the cracks in the family more opened than before, and that makes his wife far angrier than usual.
The director Im Sang-soo’s previous work “The Housemaid”(2010), which was an interesting remake of the famous South Korean classic film with the same name, was also about the rich people living in another big house decorated with impressive production design. That movie looked at its shallow characters with the cold, objective attitude until it eventually jolted us with the shocking moment followed by the grotesque closing scene, and I finally realized how horrible they really were and how sarcastic the movie was to its characters.
“The Taste of Money” is pretty much like its unofficial sequel which had a warm-up exercise in the previous film(As a matter of fact, you will find the direct and indirect references on “The Housemaid” here and there). The movie laughs at its unlikable characters from the very beginning, and its sarcasm is almost heartless with droll black humor even when some of them try to show their feelings. A good example is the scene where one character attempt to commit suicide; this is supposed to be sad and tragic in his view, but it eventually becomes absurd and pathetic while he finds himself surrounded by other characters. The movie is not kind even to Yeong-jak, one of the few characters we can identify with, so what we get is a very funny fistfight scene between him and the other character. As we learned from Occupy Wall Street movement, no matter how much we are angry and sarcastic about the rich, they are the ones who have the power and the money – and they do think much about us while looking down on us.
The characters are more or less than the ugly caricatures in the expensive dollhouse, but the actors decorate their mannered performances with the sense of humor; they are as interesting as their opulent environment. While Kim Kang-woo gives a straight performance which is gradually smeared by the corrupting influences surrounding his character, Baek Yoon-sik and Yoon Yeo-Jeong rarely lose the sense of decadent fun. Kim Hyo-jin is a jaded daughter more sympathetic than her other family members, and Hwang Jeong-min, who gave a strong lead performance in “Jesus Hospital”(2011), is imposingly ominous in her manly suits. Darcy Parquet has some fun while interacting well with his co-performers(his character’s surname is Altman, by the way), and Maui Taylor is an unfortunate woman who only wants love and happiness in her humble life.
While watching the film on Thursday morning, I got the feeling that it would not be well received by the audiences expecting sensational. Though it features several R-rated scenes, the movie is essentially a cold vicious satire on the superficial people on the top, so you should know what exactly it intends to be for enjoying it. Its ending does not work well, and the story is a little too long in its glacial pace, but I was engaged by its gorgeous looks and wry black humor. It is always good to have some money around you, but these people are not happy despite lots of money near them – and it is hard not to be addicted to it, let alone get out of the addiction.