Da-Nui Mat / The Taste Of Money (2012) - It's not "too Korean", it simply gets "too redundant" - 5/10 (06/08/13)
This movie is a loose continuation of the remake "The Housemaid" and received negative critics at Cannes Festival. Director Im Sang-Soo regretted for having presented this movie and said that it could only be understood by Korean people. Of course, this is a quite weak and almost racist excuse. Koreans have doubtlessly a unique cinema but anybody with some knowledge of Korean people and their culture and any true fan of Korean cinema is able to understand this movie. I quite liked "The Housemaid" because it really showed us the rift between rich and poor in Korea and how hard it is to climb the ladders of acceptance in this country. The tragic story of the housemaid somehow criticized the Korean society while including emotionally driven parts with addicting characters and suspenseful moments.
"The Taste Of Money" introduces us to a similar but slightly different story line. It shows us the situation of the same family twenty years after the "The Housemaid". In the beginning, nothing seems to have changed. The daughter and the son are both already divorced and rather egoistic. The mother is still very dominating and tries to control anybody at all costs. The father only married her to get rich and influential and is boozing and seducing a lot of younger women. But he got tired of his lifestyle and feels that his role in his family and the society has become too heavy to carry on. He also has an affair with the Indonesian housemaid.
The movie also criticizes the attitude strangers adapt towards South Korea. The American businessman is reduced to a corrupt capitalist who adores South Korea for the money he makes, the high amounts of alcohol he drinks and the number of beautiful women he can have sex with. It's true that some businessman from the Western world have this attitude but they would have the same attitude towards any other country than their own. One shouldn't forget that more and more foreigners start being interested in Korean culture, movies and language and are even living there. The director only depicts a negative image of the Western world and that was done on purpose because the director could have picked any South Korean businessman as well. Don't get me wrong, I think that some kind of criticism of the Western world is justified but in this case it only distracts from the main goal of the movie that wants to show us a cold portrait of the rich and famous in South Korea.
In comparison to the first part where the housemaid doesn't get much attention from the family father and acts in the most naive way, the new housemaid is a lot more mature. She has two children from a previous relationship and knows how it is to be beaten up. The relationship between the family father and the housemaid would permit both of them to start a new life. The father could finally escape from his responsibilities and trade his power to his children while the housemaid could be together with her children and stay with a man who is truly dedicated to her. While the housemaid of the first movie was only one woman among many others and some sort of amusement for the family father, the new housemaid is his key to finally change his life. The character has finally learnt from his mistakes.
But both of them can't escape the evil plans of the mother who wants to keep her strong image and her power alive. This conflict leads to a deadly confrontation where everyone turns out to lose something precious.
There is another connection between this movie and "The Housemaid". At the end of the predecessor, the young daughter Na-Mi had developed a good relationship to the housemaid but the movie didn't tell us if this relation had some sort of positive impact on her as she continued growing up in a very capitalist, cold and isolated family. This new movie shows us that what happened in the first movie had an impact. The daughter has developed a sense of morality and is described as a "good person" by the disciplined and serious main character Young-jak who is employed by the family. He feels more and more uneasy about their lifestyle before he has to take the decision to stay and become a powerful prospect or to leave and start a new life. At some moment, the daughter even remembers her old housemaid and her mother simply describes her as "crazy" and unimportant which shows how different mother and daughter turn out to be.
The problem with this movie is not that it's too "Korean" but that it has a very slow pace. The acting is great and the portrait of the egoistic rich family and its internal and external struggles is colourful but there are too many similarities to "The Housemaid". Some scenes feel redundant and fail to surprise. The few shocking scenes are not even shown and that's why no true suspense is developed in here. The only fighting scene in the movie is the most ridiculous and weak one I have ever seen in cinema. The ending was also everything but original.
What saves this movie are the atmosphere, the dark portrait of contemporary South Korean society and the strong acting. The story lacks surprises and suspense and is too close to the predecessor. Of course, "The Housemaid" rather showed us the impossibility of overturning the classes while "The Taste Of Money" shows us how hard life is once you are imprisoned in the higher class. Both movies are complementary. I though feel that there is too much repetition in them. That's why "The Taste Of Money" is only of an average quality. If you liked "The Housemaid" or dark dramas with some social critics in general, you should try this out. If you expect something creative and gripping, you should look elsewhere.
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