The Taste of Money (Movie Review) was originally published in FilipinasInShowbiz.com last May 2013. Now republished at Writing Jing. Featured image taken from Facebook.
I first heard of The Taste of Money when it got featured on the entertainment news because it included a Filipina in the cast = Maui Taylor. Having been burned in the past with the local media for reporting practically everything that included a cast member in a Hollywood film that had 1/20 Filipino blood running in one’s veins, I was skeptical at this. Besides it wasn’t the first time a Filipino got included in a Korean film (the first one was Thirst, directed by Park Chan-wook and the Filipina included was Mercedes Cabral).
So I tried to find a way to watch “The Taste of Money” for myself. And avoided some online spoilers.
This is the third film I have watched from acclaimed director Im Sang-soo. He was won numerous accolades from his previous Cannes entries “The Housemaid” (2009) and “A Good Lawyer’s Wife” (2003). And so expectations were set pretty high on my end. And he outdid himself on his previous films.
The film opens with the conglomerate’s executive secretary, Mr. Joo Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo), entering a vaulted warehouse filled with stacks of cash. When I say cash, I mean fresh, newly-minted, crunchy stacks of cash. His employer, President Yoon (Baek Yoon-sik), speaks from behind, instructing him to pack some into the attache case he’s carrying and pocket a few for himself along the way since “Everybody does it”.
It turned out to be a bribe for some government officials that they needed to shut up for cases that weren’t mentioned. Some of the cases would be mentioned much, much later in the film but chances are, it might not even be half of the cases this family has been facing.
By the way, no matter how glamorous the job is, the president’s wife, Madam Baek (Yoon Yeo-jeong), still calls him a salaryman. Besides, his job is more like a family butler than that of an executive secretary. In this profession, he ended up with a few he could call friends = Nami (Kim Hyo-jin), the president’s daughter, and the Filipina maid, Eva, (Maui Taylor).
In the course of performing his job as secretary – which included surveying the area for security purposes – he accidentally discovered Eva on the president’s private sala with her top off and feeding her family jewels to the president. (If you have seen The Taste of Money prior to stumbling upon this article, you know what I mean.)
The wife eventually discovered the affair. That’s when Mr. Joo felt worried for Eva’s safety. Although he knew she’s not just a “maid” in the household (the president’s wheelchair-ridden father-in-law flirts with her too, too bad the only thing that stiffens up for him is his skin hair), he … somewhat liked her too.
This is complicated since Madam Baek had a one-night-stand with Mr. Joo. He’s also banging Madam Baek’s daughter on the side. The next thing you know, Mr. Joo wanted to quit his job in the same way that President Yoon wanted to leave everything behind and go with Eva to the Philippines.
I apologize for the badly-written summary. I removed spoilers along the way. But it really helped a lot that prior to seeing The Taste of Money. I don’t know much about this film other than Maui Taylor’s appearance.
Although there might be nothing new to her role as the maid-turned-paramour, her character Eva turned out to be a pivotal plot device to the story. One that would prove if President Yoon’s claim of finally finding love of being true. (Like did he really love her or she’s another piece of meat to park his meat with?)
Also, her appearance in this film proved something = that Koreans may be ready for sex and nudity. But they had to import an actress to do the nude scenes that exceeded the 5-minute-screen time. Try adding all of the scenes that had Maui Taylor in it and chances are it’ll exceed 5 minutes.
Most of the actresses (in other Korean films that I have seen so far, including The Housemaid) that bared their breasts were bit players. Said bit players may be either Korean or Caucasian. But for nude scenes that included the whole nine yards and a little dialogue along the way, they ended up with Maui. And she turned out to be okay in acting those parts.
She had a few Tagalog lines in the movie. But they’re mostly while talking to the kids (her role is an OFW in Korea with a freeloading husband back in the Philippines). Most of her lines are in English while talking to her employers. Her diction ranged from neutrally-accented to American-accented which isn’t surprising. Eva even taught Nami an American slang to describe her husband = a fucked-up loser.
Thankfully, some self-proclaimed righteous groups didn’t go up in arms against this film. I found it to be a painfully honest portrayal of what an OFW turned out to be abroad. It didn’t avoid the aspect of turning the character of Eva as an outlet of commentary for the immigrant workers. Some of them willing to do everything to live since not everything that Pinoys do abroad are actually “legal” or “morally acceptable”. Also, the film isn’t that much judgmental about all of the characters no matter how amoral they have gone.
The closest thing to being sane among the family other than Mr. Joo is Nami. She didn’t judge her father for finding love nor his previous sexual exploits as she knew how life is under an authoritative wife and mother. Her attitude towards her mother is not hatred. More like jaded and bored. No wonder she just casually mentioned the affair to Madam Baek instead of your usual histrionic of a hissy fit/confrontational scene. (I guess I have seen too many movies that try to pass off histrionic fits as attempts to phish an acting award.) She knew her mother was evil.
She just didn’t expect her to be THAT evil.
There was a conversation between father and daughter that was cringe-worthy but no matter how painful the scene was, I can’t look away.
Nami: If you really hated her, why not divorce her?Dialogue from The Taste of Money
President: I was addicted to money.
Money basically tore this family apart in various ways you could think of. Madam Baek knew that money is the only reason why President Yoon stayed. But she went on with the charade since she loved her husband. It is the selfish kind of love.
And she knew him well enough to know that there is no way out for her husband, even using the law to her advantage. This is a couple whose match was made in hell. Money is the only thing that keeps them together.
Money is the reason.
Not the kids who were just as scared of their mom.
As for the technical aspects of The Taste of Money, they are excellent. It succeeded in showing how opulent the mansion was. If you didn’t know any better, you might have this mansion mistaken for a corporate building from the inside = elevators, marbled tiles and all. Even the CCTV monitors are clear too. The clips may appear black and white on HD monitors. But still clear enough to show who is screwing who.
The folks behind this film are not exactly keen on using musical score. And in this film, there is minimal background music to accompany the scenes, no matter how dramatic. They let the images float on themselves for dramatic effect. And they succeeded in doing that. Rarely do they show the mansion’s interiors in a bright light not only because the colors chosen for the house were dark hues. But also a way to portray how dark their lives have gotten. The darkness basically reflected on the house itself.
The Taste of Money as a film doesn’t preach. But it would disturb you to think that some characters are just so casually evil. They can’t think of anything else to do but defy the law (because most government officials are under Madam Baek’s father’s thumb).
Mr. Joo himself doesn’t consider himself to be a righteous man. He wanted to quit his job because he found it suffocating. Money can’t buy peace of mind no matter how big his cut is. He would always be haunted by imagery of stuff he never wanted to do in the first place, first and foremost is sex with Madam Baek.
I was laughing during the sex scene. Mr. Joo was drinking himself to stupor just to stomach the fact that he’s humping Madam Baek. The morning after, he drank a bottle of tequila with slices of lemon because the thought hasn’t worn off yet. He just wanted to forget everything. It almost felt like rape to him (then again, the scene itself explained it best why some men can never claim “rape”).
If you’re just after the sex and nudity, feel free to watch it. It’s not preachy, don’t worry. It would just remind you why sometimes having too much money isn’t a good thing either. You can thank your lucky stars later for pleasant discoveries along the way.
Speaking of The Taste of Money, don’t worry. There are honorable ways to earn money online. Just click this image to know how. Thank me later.