The Taste of Money centres on Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo) as he begins rising in prominence within a wealthy corporate-crime family and becomes embroiled in the strained relationships within it. However, unlike most crime dramas about criminal families, this film refreshingly avoids the ‘crime doesn’t pay’ stance. In fact it seems to show them all living quite comfortable lives with their ill-gotten wealth; discussing paying-off government figures with the disinterest one would associate with paying a bill. It’s almost as if this culture of corruption is normalised in modern civilisation. How novel. Sadly in lieu of that, the film instead decides to focus on the only slightly less overused trope of ‘money can’t buy you love/happiness/interest-ideal-
Visually, the film can only be praised. There is a pervasive cold, ordered structure to almost every room that the camera glides and spins around. And make no mistake, this film is almost singularly a series of conversations in different rooms. The set design for the family mansion, where most of the film takes place, is simply gorgeous. Sadly however, this isn’t supposed to be an interior decorating advertisement so the very fact that this is one of the more memorable aspects of the film doesn’t cast the rest of the production in a particularly favourable light.
Ultimately there just isn’t much to work with. There’s very little that’s truly bad about the film (that’s not to say there’s nothing bad, we’ll get to that), but there’s also very little worthy of praise. The story of the various family members’ fraught relationships with one another is reasonably engaging but fairly pedestrian. (Would it surprise you to know someone’s having an affair? With a housemaid? What scandal!) It occasionally tries to veer into more melodramatic territory but it never commits fully to it which, coupled with the overall cold and detached atmosphere, just leaves these moments feeling out of place and almost unintentionally funny. Humour is another issue. The first half of the film has a subtle but maintained air of quirkiness to it. Some scenes are played entirely for laughs and can be genuinely amusing but then in the third act it attempts a darker, more serious tone which ends up coming across as unconvincing and mildly schizophrenic overall.
The performances are, on balance, perfectly good across the board. Characters are clearly defined and played convincingly. Our lead, Kang-woo, credibly plays the deer-in-the-headlights shtick for the early movements of the film and actually shows some promise for a career in comedy as his performance in the scenes which are played for awkward laughs are genuinely amusing. His expressive talents as an actor are more noticeable in these short scenes than in the third act where more serious emotions are required. Similarly underwhelming is Yoon Yeo-jeong as the powerful matriarch figure. This is a role tailor made for a scenery-chewing turn by an actress which disappointingly never manifests here. That’s not to say she doesn’t command a presence when onscreen, it just isn’t enough of one to stop your eye being drawn to inanimate objects within the room. (In all seriousness though, there’s a smashed violin encased in glass that’s genuinely interesting to look at in every shot it appears in.)
This extends to the rest of the cast, with Baek Yoon-sik’s performance as the father one of the brighter spots due to his more relaxed attitude and penchant for breaking into song or just laughing maniacally. However, there is one actor who deserves special mention. The only American character is a man (arbitrarily) named Robert Altman played stunningly badly by Darcy Paquet. He is a black hole of discomfort in any scene he appears in. His delivery of every line is simultaneously devoid of emotion and uncomfortably awkward to watch, which combine together with his near-permanent psychotic smile to give the truly bizarre impression that his lines were dubbed over in post-production. He comes across like a supporting character from The Room lost in the wrong film. In fact, calling him a more eloquent and well-spoken version of Tommy Wiseau would not be inaccurate. Cruel, yes, but true.
The Taste of Money is harmless. The script and majority of the actors are just engaging enough that it never becomes dull and it remains consistently pleasant to look at. Sadly it just has nothing of interest to say or do, moving along at a decent pace to its perfectly adequate finale. It’s amusing and not un-enjoyable, competently put together for the most part and features a very interesting-looking smashed violin. And if that’s enough for some people, that’s okay.
The Taste of Money is released on 25th October 2013