We enter into the sordid world of a privileged, affluent family from the perspective of their newly hired gofer Joo Young-Jak (Kim Kang-woo), who takes a backseat as he watches on as this corrupt household exploit their indefinite power. At the head of the family is Yoon (Baek Yun-shik), who enters into an affair with his maid Eva (Maui Taylor). When his beleaguered wife (Yoon Yeo-Jung) learns of his infidelity, she drags Young-Jak into this unfavourable set of affairs, as he becomes unwittingly entwined in a world of illicit sexual desire and inherent greed.
As The Taste of money begins, we see our protagonist Young-Jak deliberating over the decision to steal some money – which he has been given the license to do. Instead he merely smells it, providing us with an immediate entry into this tale, through a character we are endeared to – we know he may value money, but he values other people, too. Sadly the same can’t be said of his colleagues and employers, though the audience benefit from peering into this distorted upper class paradise from an outsiders point of view, as it’s a world we too know little about. As the story progresses however, the tone shifts drastically, as to begin with this works as a satire, a political comment of sorts, as we explore South Korea’s bourgeoisie. However the further we progress, the film becomes nothing short of a cheap melodrama, and it’s a swift and ultimately detrimental turn for Sang-soo, as the film loses its direction somewhat, floating carelessly between characters and conflicting narratives.
Nonetheless, the filmmaker must be commended from an aesthetic point of view, creating a seedy, dark and deranged world to great effect. It’s all very sparkly and elegantly modern to look at, with a house that is so spotless you could see a reflection of yourself at every turn. However this is symbolic of this family – because on the outside they are perceived as being polished and cultivated, yet beneath this facade is a tumultuous affair, as a decadent family on the brink of destruction. We see most of the licentious acts through Young-Jak, confining us to voyeuristic viewings, seeing these sexual endeavours from afar, or through cracks in the wall – enhancing the notion that these are moments we shouldn’t be seeing. The film is very darkly lit too, as though this is all taking place in the shadows, which to some extent, it is.
Growing tedious in parts, this unconventional erotic thriller is too closely related to its setting, as regrettably this dark, seedy and emotionally detached world extends to the viewers’ own perceptions, as we feel the shallowness that exists. As such it makes for a film that is difficult to invest in, and then by the time we reach the climatic finale, we realise we simply don’t care enough enough about of any of our characters. Though that is sort of the point, that doesn’t necessarily make it okay.