Director Im Sang-Soo has a very interesting filmography. From the political black-comedy The President’s Last Bang to the Palm D’or nominated erotic thriller The Housemaid, he has carved out a specific niche, one fueled by sex, violence, and sex. While promoting his newest film, The Taste of Money, I got a chance to ask him a few questions, none of which are about sex. Unfortunately, it was an email-only interview, so there are some awkward ends to conversation threads that I would have liked to pursue. Regardless, I still think his responses were interesting, and one of these days maybe I’ll get a chance to talk with him further.
His responses assume knowledge of the events of The Taste of Money. If you want to go into it spoiler-free, I would recommend holding off on this until you’ve seen it (which you can do over at SundanceNow). Also note that English is not Im Sang-Soo’s first language, which is pretty clear from his responses. I cleaned up the grammar in a few spots, but I’ve left the responses mostly as I received them.
The idea of the corrupting power of money is pretty common in America and American cinema, but it’s usually a much bigger affair. Keeping everything so confined both in terms of set and characters gives The Taste of Money a very distinct (and perhaps more Korean) flavor. What made you decide to so heavily personalize a story that has such broad implications?
Money is power, and power always tends to corrupt. This fact is not at all new to us. Rather than that, I wanted to focus on describing the ironic history of the relationship of a couple. In the eulogy by Madam Baek during Chairman Yoon’s funeral, the couple’s early days are being described. Their beautiful love soon turns into relationship of betrayal, and after few turnovers (such as the death of Eva), it ends up with the suicide, the “declaration of defeat” of Chairman Yoon. However, what is ironic about this is that Chairman Yoon is smiling peacefully in his coffin, but in front of it, Madam Baek is crying sorrowfully. In the center of this failed relationship, there is ‘money.’ Wouldn’t the fact that they all were slaves of money be the reason of the failure? It’s pity that the couple that is just beginning seems to follow in the old couple’s footsteps, but I am just hoping that the youngsters could learn something from the mistakes of the elders.
There is large reliance on English in the film. Could you talk a little bit about why you chose to do that and how it played out on set and in the film itself?
Around this weird family, there are two observers. One is the American businessman who looks them down from above, and the other one is the Philippine maid who dies while looking up at them from below. Nowadays, most of Korea’s societal issues of Korean society are not limited to Korea itself, but linked to something worldwide, so, it was necessary to have English dialogue. As a Korean director, writing English dialogue and controlling it to the end was not easy, but it was a very fun experience.
Would you ever consider doing a primarily English-language film like what other Korean directors such as Kim Jee-Woon, Bong Joon-Ho, and Park Chan-Wook have been doing recently? What do you think about this recent trend in general?
I look forward to seeing those films by three ambitious Korean directors. Of course, it’s not important where they are from but the film itself. One thing that is interesting is that only the film by Bong Joon-ho has an Asian (Korean) character. (As far as I know, since I haven’t watched them yet.) Let’s see… how about Ang Lee and John Woo? Did they prefer to have Asian characters in their films?
In most American markets, a download release of The Taste of Money preceded any sort of wide theatrical release. What do you think about the spread of Video On Demand and its ability to get your work out to a much wider audience, albeit on an individually smaller scale (I watched The Housemaid on a 7-inch tablet screen, for example)?
Not as much as US, but the VOD business in Korea is growing bigger. As one of the traditional movie-goers, though, I won’t ever give up watching film on a big screen without having popcorn with my girlfriend.
The film has some strange nods to your previous film, The Housemaid (which is excellent, I might add), such as the carry-over of the name “Na-Mi” and Na-Mi’s rather explicit reference in The Taste of Money to the end of The Housemaid, that seem to place it in the same universe. But it also shows the actors in The Taste of Money watching The Housemaid, which makes that impossible. What was the rationale behind all that?
Kids observe everything we do, understand in their own ways, and they become grownups like that. How would little Nami from The Housemaid turn out? Also, what kind of childhood did Nami from The Taste of Money had that resulted in her becoming as she is in the film? How would the little girl from The Taste of Money, another observer in the film, turn out?
After all, aren’t we all just the result of heredity?