Im Sang-soo’s follow up to The Housemaid (2010) details the decadent, bitter and corrupt lives of an exceedingly wealthy modern-day South Korean family and their desperate attempts to control the insular world around them as it slowly falls apart. Cruel, deluded, manipulative, selfish and calculated, Sang-soo’s cast of scheming millionaires is an unsympathetic gallery of caricatures that are as vacuous and cold as the vast interiors they constantly inhabit.
There’s the callous and slightly insane grandfather, who’s well aware that everyone is waiting for him to die, so holds on to life out of spite. The controlling mother who even stoops to secret surveillance in order to keep her family in place and shift the balance of power. Her philandering husband who married her for money and spends most of his time seducing the female staff. Their sensitive daughter who pines for a more fulfilling existence that hopefully doesn’t involve being poor, and their emotionally inept son who has become the public face of their dubious business transactions.
Into this fold comes a relatively naïve and subservient, newly appointed personal secretary, who becomes conflicted over what he feels is morally correct, and his dutiful service to the family and his eagerness to be accepted. Can he resist the lure of money and power? Or will he become instrumental in bringing one of South Korea’s most powerful families to their knees?
After an interesting and inventive use of time lapse during the impressive opening scenes, director Sang-soo certainly establishes how adept he is at expertly filling a frame. But his brilliance at filming shiny floors and fancy furniture wasn’t enough to hold my attention with a narrative that is less than gripping, and left me feeling somewhat drained and indifferent after the film’s 115-minute running time. One aspect that I found particularly distracting was the sudden use of stilted English dialogue that randomly pops up throughout the film, creating seriously odd moments of wince-inducing unintentional humour. There’s a bit of Shakespearean plotting from time to time, a bit of Greek tragedy here and there, elements of a corporate thriller thrown in for good measure, unconvincing melodrama and a vague murder mystery towards the end of the film that’s never fully fleshed out and only seems to serve an over-the top-climax.
The Taste of Money seems to be trying very hard to be a shocking, subversive, controversial and unrelenting expose of Korea’s ruling class, but the result feels more like a glossy, heavy-handed soap opera with all the complexity of a four-piece jigsaw puzzle.
Watch the trailer: