The Taste Of Money


Treated as a dark comedy, director Im Sang-soo’s cautionary tale of extreme wealth and dysfunctional family life works. Some chuckles are to be had as the film exhibits a gin-dry and pleasingly wry sense of humour which takes pity on none of its players. Considered as a thriller or a sincere examination of corporate corruption and greed, however, things don’t really stack up.

A second-generation sequel to Im’s previous outing THE HOUSEMAID (2010), The Taste of Money focusses on the youthful salaryman Joo Young-jak in his position as personal assistant to the powerful business tycoon, Chairman Yoon. The quietly ambitious Young-jak performs his duties well, and he soon earns the trust of his master. It is not long before this trust permits him access, under the mask of well-to-do outward appearances, to the true seediness of the Yoon family’s private life: call girl orgies, corporate fraud and a mistress. He is a reluctant witness to the emotional battlefield that Yoon occupies, with his cold and bitter wife Baek Geum-ok (played with a crazed, Machiavellian brilliance by TV and film veteran Yoon Yeo-jeong) and spoilt adult children, Nami and Charlie.

Young-jak is used sexually by Yoon’s wife in a moment of perversely funny revenge (arthritic leg-humping) after she spies her husband snogging his mistress on the home security cameras. To purge himself of this experience, the young man lies in a hot bath, downing shots and sucking on a lemon. His attraction to the solemn Nami complicates his life further; feelings which appear to be reciprocated are never consummated. Quite why he refuses her, we are never really sure.

A lousy fighter and a hesitant lover, he comes across as a bit of a milquetoast.

Repression is our watchword here. Decades of pent-up resentment and contempt burst forth, knocking the family into a downward spiral of sinful acts and self-destructive aggression. Money can’t buy these people happiness, and is indeed central to their downfall as their lavish lifestyle crumbles around them.  The problem of the mistress comes to a head, and Chairman’s life soon takes a nosedive. Geum-Ok conspires to harm Yoon and the family name by cutting off his access to the family fortune, blocking his ability to travel out of the country and orchestrating a personal tragedy. At one point, Charlie goes to jail.

It’s hard to draw any conclusions as to the moral worth of Young-jak. He displays a mild revulsion at his employer’s behaviour, but never really rebels or redeems himself. Is he a good guy? Not really. Given the task of emptying the family safe of its mountains of cash, he keeps a huge wad for himself and hides it behind his mirror at home. A lousy fighter and a hesitant lover, he comes across as a bit of a milquetoast. We are left wondering why he loiters about the place, implicating himself in an ever-worsening position, and doesn’t just pack it all in after Yoon suffers a breakdown triggered by grief. Similarly, the central malfunctions of the film as a whole are its emotional numbness, and reluctance to provide a moral spine. The viewer is left to acknowledge that these things happened, and to draw their own conclusions.


4 thoughts on “The Taste Of Money”

  1. The ‘moment of revenge’ is actually before Yoon makes any announcement of his intentions regarding his mistress, and as soon as what has been going on is discovered.
    Young-jak does not refuse Nami, but, in the context of what has happened, chooses not to want to sleep with her on the first occasion that they could – it makes when they do have sex much more effective, before which there is the obstacle of her finding out about the ‘moment of revenge’.
    I do not believe that this review is fair to the film – it is not void of feeling, in the way that, by the contrast that I have used in my review, Only God Forgives is, it never claims to be a thriller, and I fail to see what sincerity it lacks when greed and corruption are concerned. For my part, I commend this film, and intend to watch it again.

      1. Yes, I saw it at Cineworld on Friday afternoon, and again this afternoon – Mike O’Brien then declared it to be ‘bollocks’, which I wait to see fleshed out in a review as an opinion, even if he did say that it was beautifully filmed bollocks…

  2. @ The Agent Apsley. Thanks for taking the time to comment and for engaging with my opinions. Your point about the timing of the wife’s assault on Young-jack is correct and has been amended in my review.

    I have to say that your friend’s comments regarding beautifully-filmed bollocks sounds like a different genre of film altogether!

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