You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.

With: Kim Kang-woo, Youn Yuh-jung, Baek Yoon-sik, Kim Hyo-jin, Maui Taylor, On Ju-wan, Darcy Paquet. (Korean, English, Tagalog dialogue)

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).

Popular on Variety

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

South Korea

Production: A Daisy & Cinergy Entertainment release of a Daisy & Cinergy Entertainment, Lotte Entertainment, Isu Venture Capital Co. presentation of a Filmpasmal production in association with Lotte Entertainment. (International sales: Daisy and Cinergy Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Lee Nam-hee. Executive producers, Son Kwang-ik, Kim Won-kuk. Co-producers, Lee Dong-ho, Chung Jae-wook. Co-executive producers, Chae Yoon, Suh Jeong-soo. Directed, written by Im Sang-soo.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, HD) Kim Woo-hyung; editor, Lee Eun-soo; music, Kim Hong-jip; production designer, Kim Young-hee, Kim June; set decorator, So Kim, Yoo Jeonggon; costume designer, Haein Entertainment; sound (Dolby 5.1), Bluecap; re-recording mixer, Eun Hee-soo, Lim Hyoung-ju; special effects, Hong Jang-pyo; visual effects supervisor, Jang Jeongho, Park Jung-soo; visual effects, Mofac Studio; stunt coordinator, Park Jung-ryul; action director, Kim Seung-pil; associate producer, Choi Boram; assistant director, Park You-chan. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 24, 2012. Running time: 115 MIN.

Cast: With: Kim Kang-woo, Youn Yuh-jung, Baek Yoon-sik, Kim Hyo-jin, Maui Taylor, On Ju-wan, Darcy Paquet. (Korean, English, Tagalog dialogue)

More Scene


    Donna Karan, Mary-Louise Parker Honored at David Lynch Foundation's Women of Vision Awards

    Donna Karan, Mary-Louise Parker and Deborra-Lee Furness were celebrated for their charitable work at the David Lynch Foundation’s 2019 Women of Vision Awards. “We are all being guided to come together as one. There is so much chaos in the world right now,” Karan said, while accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual luncheon on [...]

  • Bill Hader

    Bill Hader, Greg Berlanti, Margie Cohn and Cindy Holland Inducted Into Variety Hall of Fame

    Variety’s annual Hall of Fame ceremony mixed comedy, gratitude and warmth at the annual awards ceremony Tuesday night at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Because the class of 2019 celebrates technical innovation and achievement across film, TV, digital, video games and music. The honorees — Greg Berlanti, Bill Hader, Cindy Holland, Dametra Johnson-Marletti, [...]

  • Billy Porter FNAA

    Billy Porter Explains Why Fashion 'Can and Should' Be Activism

    On Tuesday in New York City, a handful of fashion’s marquee names, including Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Steve Madden and Pete Nordstrom, and many of its muses, including Billy Porter, Lena Waithe, Adriana Lima and Paris Hilton, gathered to celebrate the annual Footwear News Achievement Awards — or, as it’s more colloquially dubbed, the “Shoe Oscars.” Activism and the potential for designers to spur [...]

  • Tiffany Haddish Black Mitzvah

    Barbra Streisand Gives Tiffany Haddish Star of David Necklace for Her 'Black Mitzvah'

    Tiffany Haddish rang in her 40th birthday Tuesday night by celebrating her black and Jewish heritage with a star-studded “Black Mitzvah” party. One of Haddish’s famous friends, Barbra Streisand, was noticeably absent from the festivities, but sent the comedian a special memento for the occasion. “She got me this beautiful Star of David,” Haddish told [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content