You have to really want to say “F*** you” to anyone watching your work to make a black comedy as rancid as The Taste of Money. Money is a needlessly self-parodizing, feature-length supplement to South Korean Sang-soo Im’s (The President’s Last Bang) recent remake of Ki-Young Kim’s The Housemaid. In fact, Im rubs that connection in viewers’ faces by alluding to The Housemaid three times in Money, even going so far as to have his hatefully stupid protagonists watch both versions of The Housemaid.
For comparison’s sake: both versions of The Housemaid focus on a working-class domestic who suffers a hilarious psychotic breakdown on refusing to be bought off by her corrupt bosses, who naturally come from old money. The Taste of Money‘s two hirelings reluctantly climb the corporate ladder and look on in mute disdain while their screwy bosses literally screw each other over, acting like rejected antagonists from Passions. Im actively encourages laughter at hysterical, one-dimensional protagonists. This aggressively broad satire is designed to needle everybody and satisfy no one.
Young-jak (Kang-woo Kim) is a factotum-cum-personal assistant for Chairman Yoon (Yoon-sik Baek), a wealthy owner of a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate. Yoon has Young-jak do almost everything for him. And, as is explicitly spelled out in the film’s first scene, in which Young-jak is told to “taste” (ie: pocket) some money for himself, he’s being groomed for a higher position.
But Young-jak doesn’t know if he wants to climb the corporate ladder in the weird, unexpected ways required in this film. He’s awkwardly caught between Geum-ok Baek (Yeo-jong Yoon), Yoon’s wife, and Yoon, who is having an affair with his Filipina maid Eva (Maui Taylor). And to keep everything copacetic between everyone in the Yoon clan, he also has to schtup Na-mi (Hyo-jin Kim), Yoon’s attractive daughter, too. Despite his reluctance to admit it, there is a line that even a would-be sell-out like Young-Jak isn’t prepared to cross. And he’s made to cross it several times over.
The Taste of Money’s smugly shrill sense of humor delights in ridiculing its soft target protagonists. The film is punishing-ly surreal in that way, being insanely melodramatic, but it also never reaches a Mel Brooks-level of farce. If anything, Im is just so in love with his jokes that he reaches a new strata of semi-self-aware camp. Topless women, too many gimmicky POV shots, and the random presence of a white CEO named Robert Altman (played by the respected real-life Korean film critic Darcy Paquet) are not even the most bewildering things about the film. It’s an utterly baffling film: not because it’s hard to understand what Im’s doing (money corrupts, apparently!) so much as why he won’t stop doing it.
Unfortunately, The Taste of Money isn’t even batshit on an inspired level, like the ending of his The Housemaid remake (One word: SELF-IMMOLATION). It’s just a noxiously tedious bit of fuckwittery and a big waste of time. If the ending of Im’s The Housemaid was his way of exhaling sharply and letting his gut out, then The Taste of Money is his way of keeping his beer belly out and playing The Green Hornet theme song with his navel, over and over and over again.
Simon Abrams is a New York-based freelance arts critic. His film reviews and features have been featured in The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Slant Magazine, The L Magazine, The New York Press and Time Out Chicago. He currently writes TV criticism for The Onion AV Club and is a contributing writer at the Comics Journal. His writings on film are collected at the blog, Extended Cut.