It begins with a shot of two men swiping up bundles of cash -- ah, Money! -- and the plot goes on from there: Im Sang-soo's The Taste of Money is the story of an extremely wealthy South Korean family and the sterile claustrophobic life they lead in their super-modern mansion in Seoul, replete with money-laundering, infidelity and murder. It is a black comedy purposefully made, the director told us, "about the biggest problem in Korea today." Money.
The movie is greatly enjoyable, mostly for its fantastic sets: the camera zooms round and round the strange family in their stark dining room as they discuss who is more corrupt, America or Korea. "America bases its wealth on slavery," says the Korean wife archly.
Another wonderful set is the indoor swimming pool, a corpse floating below, with the witchlike wife (who has engineered the murder) staring out from a lifeguard chair.
Later the corpse is placed in a coffin: full of money, too.
The film is cinematic precisely for these memorable images. The mansion alone -- with its marble corridors and monochrome couches -- is a work of genius. "Many rich Korean women used it to decide how to decorate their homes," the director told us, in all sincerity.
The one-liner of the film -- that moneyed people are rotten to the core -- does not go any further than that, however; hence there was no question that this film would win a prize at Cannes. Still, the creativity of this cynical movie and the quirkiness of these characters make it a worthwhile experience.
"I wanted to draw out the suspenseful atmosphere with Hitchcock-like mise-en-scene," Im Sang-soo commented.
If the movies does have one egregious flaw, however, it lies in its pandering to sexist cliches. When the elderly rich husband has an affair with his Filipina housemaid, the pretty young girl tenderly makes love to him with fond kisses. She enjoys his decrepit body! Oh you are so good, she moans.
Yet when the wife, definitely more attractive than her aged husband, seduces a young employee, as she is desperate for sex (and enraged that her husband has had yet another affair), here the camera is cruel. It shows the young lover downing shots of vodka in disgust. The sex scene is filmed comically, with the older woman moaning while the young man looks perturbed and chugs down more alcohol.
The audience at Cannes hooted in laughter: clearly complicit with the idea that an older woman sleeping with a young man is a freak of nature, whereas a twenty year old Filipina adoring a septuagenarian is par for the course.
"My friends couldn't bear the film for its sexism," said a French producer, who would not see it for that.
Apparently hers is a minority view: the audience was respectfully silent during the scenes of love-making with the old man -- and did not reflect that just a moment ago, they had been hooting at the gender-opposite equivalent.
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