The Low-Down: Default is the first South Korean film to depict the true events of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis from the perspective of the Koreans. Back in 1997 when South Korea was spiralling into a financial crisis because of transactions made primarily with promissory notes. Think of it as being akin to the subprime mortgage bubble of 2007 — ballooning of credit loans that couldn’t be paid off, resulting in mass defaults.
The Story: Bank of Korea head Han Si-hyeon (Kim Hye-soo) and her team race against time and corrupt Deputy Finance Minister Park (Jo Woo-jin, Rampant) to prevent the collapse of South Korea’s financial system. Meanwhile, ex-asset manager Yoon Jeong-hak (Yoo Ah-in) gathers funds from ex-clients to bet against the government’s foolish decisions. In the background is down-to-earth factory boss Han Gap-soo (Heo Joon-ho) struggling to make ends meet and pay his workers in the midst of wrangling debts.
The Good: Budding director Choi Gook-hee manages to build some genuine tension between the characters, particularly the politicians and government officials, giving the bland, factual recount some spice and flavour. The plot development is clear and coherent, spelling out the crucial details of how the financial crisis went down with characters of various backgrounds putting faces behind the victims and triumphant.
The Not-So-Good: Unlike Hollywood counterparts about financial crises such as the classic The Big Short and Too Big To Fail, the Korean film has too few dramatizations. At some points, Default feels a lot more like a documentary (Matt Damon-narrated Inside Job, anyone?) rather than a film, which can get a little too bland for regular moviegoers. If anything, Default can even go something hyper-fictionalized like Showtime’s Billions.
Knock-Out Performances: Jo, who usually plays the good guy in most of his roles, delivers a chilling and sinister performance as a corrupt official who put his interests above all else, even his country’s. Heo flexes his veteran muscles and plays the Korean everyman to much effectiveness, nailing the emotional scenes so well it’s uncomfortable to watch him suffer. Kim and Yoo, on the other hand, don’t get much room to maneuvre their characters, perform decently well.
Watch Out For: Not much since it’s purely a drama film. The storytelling and plot are fairly entertaining, plus it helps to have characters of various backgrounds tell a holistic story.
Recommended? Not quite, unless you’re really into slight dramatizing twists to the true events leading up to the South Korean economy’s unravelling back in 1997.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars