Im's film slams failings of Korea's political rulers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2012, 10:28am

With both of South Korea's leading political parties having confirmed their nominees for the presidential election on December 19, the race to become the country's next leader has finally begun. Not that the people are enthusiastic: opinion polls show a large part of the electorate is disenchanted with the mainstream politicians who have held the presidency during the past two decades.

Among the disaffected is filmmaker Im Sang-soo, whose latest feature,
The Taste of Money, includes scenes where politicians are described as "third-rate gangsters" who are easily manipulated by the "loose change" they receive from the country's tycoons. One such influential family is central to the film's story.

"This is actually what the Korean
chaebol [business conglomerates] think about the Korean political situation, not me," the filmmaker writes in an e-mail. Im remains best known for his 2005 film
The President's Last Bang, which aroused controversy for its portrayal of former dictator Park Chung-hee as a drunken brute.

The Taste of Money, wealthy matriarch Baek Geum-ok (played by Yoon Yeo-jeong) speaks of the country's political establishment as being mired in corruption - including what she calls "the top dog". It's a reference to the string of scandals involving South Korean leaders over the past decade, from the corruption charges against previous president Roh Moo-hyun, to the incumbent, Lee Myung-bak, who has been accused - among other things - of nepotism and tax evasion during his five-year tenure.

Im zeroes in on the excesses of the politicians' puppetmasters. In both
The Taste of Money and his previous film,
The Housemaid, power is seen as invested in what he describes as South Korea's parvenu: immoral, abusive individuals who, after decades of monopolising the industrial and business sectors, have become monsters with scant regard for the well-being of anyone outside their clan.

Everyone else is disposable.

The Taste of Money, Joo Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo), a chauffeur who rises to become the clan's chief henchman, is treated as a tool and a plaything. "Young-jak struggles with the insults he receives from the family, and thinks he is a victim," says Im. But a tragedy forces Young-jak to recognise that he is one of the perpetrators. "This realisation gives him the strength to cut the chain of insults."

At least there's hope for a better future in
The Taste of Money as the family's figurehead (Baek Yoon-sik) rediscovers his humanity, and Young-jak tries to do some good.

The Taste of Money
is screening now