The Low-Down: Reply 1988 breakout star Ryoo Joon-yeol (Believer 독전, A Taxi Driver 택시 운전사) stars in female director Park Noo-ri’s solo big screen debut Money, a social commentary on Korea’s dog-eat-dog financial market and the victims of its own game — brokers and their families. Will a broker whose only aim of entering the industry is to get rich do anything for money? How far can he go before breaking? Insider trading and market manipulation are just the few morally and legally challenging stunts. That’s the central premise of Money, a plain but apt title.
The Story: Il-hyun (Ryoo) is a newbie broker who slogged his way into Korean Wall Street’s top broking firm, only to consistently underperform for almost his entire year. Seeing Il-hyun’s desperate state, senior broker Min-joon (Kim Min-jae) let him in on a high-risk (and borderline illegal) insider job by a mysterious man with the pseudonym “Ticket” (Yoo Ji-tae). After getting his first commission of US$500,000, Il-hyun caught the attention of Financial Supervisory Services official Han (Jo Woo-jin, Rampant 창궐, Default 국가부도의 날) and a game of cat-and-mouse begins. As the risks and rewards of each job get higher, Il-hyun gets dangerously closer to being arrested, and involved parties start dying in accidents.
The Good: Although the movie takes place mostly in the broking firm, director Park shoots and presents the scenes in a rather gripping and engaging fashion. Money takes some time to explain certain technicalities of stock market trading while not revealing too much of the dry details — you’re privy just enough to understand roughly what’s going on. More importantly, director Park touches on the thorny topics of money, greed, power, and everything in between. The movie is more interested in what the characters do and how they react in moral situations. What’s most admirable is that Money doesn’t try to give an obvious take of what’s right or wrong — it leaves it to the viewers.
The Not-So-Good: Certain subplots are not explored enough, leaving some loose ends that adds on to a narrative mess. Il-hyun’s motivation to be rich because of his relationship with his parents and a girlfriend who appeared merely twice doesn’t come off strong. Also, the storytelling attempts at explaining who are involved in the elaborate operations of the titantular Ticket are clunky at best and outright confusing at worst. Money tries too hard to make the plot complex and intriguing but the execution leaves much to be desired. The result is a conclusion that feels a little anti-climatic because the build-up loses steam towards the third act.
Knock-Out Performances: Ryoo delivers once again — from his humble days to an unethical broker blinded by zeros in his bank account, Ryoo never fails to capture the visceral moments naturally. Yoo’s chilling performance as a cold blooded billionaire crook is pretty convincing too. His blank but piercing stares, deep and evil voice, and sinister smirks make him an intimidating figure. Jo is quite under utilized as he merely serves to move the plot forward rather than being central to the overall story.
Watch Out For: The ending scene at the train station where Il-hyun meets Ticket. It nods to a few earlier plot points, which at least gives the audience some sort of pay-off.
Recommended? Yes, for Ryoo Joon-yeol fans and viewers interested in watching The Wolf Of Wall Street through modern Korean lens. If you can forgive Money’s convoluted story, you’ll enjoy the performances and the dramatization of a broker’s life.
Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars