World Premiere | Out Of Competition | Restored Classics | 50/50: Celebrating 50 Years of Korean Film Preservation


Bong-su is a farmer who, even in a good year, is unable to pay back his debts and properly support his family (a wife, a daughter, and a son who has just returned from the army). His problem is not that he doesn’t work hard (he does), but that farming doesn’t pay well, and he lacks the cunning to maintain or increase his wealth. Playing cards at the local tavern or trying to arrange business deals in Seoul, he is gradually pulled towards ruin through fault of his honest and naive nature.

Based on a play by Son Ki-hyun, Money can be seen as a strident (if slightly simplistic) critique of capitalist society, and a sign of the influence that Italian Neorealist cinema had on postwar Korean film. In 1958, the film’s pessimistic tone must have served as cathartic release for many frustrated viewers, with so much of the country experiencing similar hardships as the main characters. Today, the film is perhaps best remembered for its memorable performance by actor Kim Seung-ho as the farmer, who would later make a similarly strong impression in works like The Coachman and Mr. Park.

Director Kim So-dong is likely to have had few resources available to him when shooting this feature. Film stock was expensive and hard to come by in this era, and several jarring cuts we see can probably be explained by the fact that re-shooting a scene several times to make it come out just right was not an option. Nonetheless, the film is handsomely and creatively lit, and clearly shot with great care.

Kim adopts an unhurried pace to tell his story, and his tendency to move the camera up close into the actor’s space heightens the intimacy we feel for the characters. He often shoots his actors speaking straight ahead into the camera, which in this case makes them appear more vulnerable. He also employs a creative use of sound in one key moment when the farmer learns that he has been swindled: as he sits stunned in his country home, sounds of the city suddenly engulf the soundtrack.

Some of the film’s most engaging moments are the slow, drawn-out sequences when Bong-su is cheated out of his hard-earned cash. There’s a perverse sort of pleasure in watching the crooks at work: even though we recoil at what they are doing, they have a smooth, undeniable charm about them. In the end, however, fate proves to be much more cruel than any of the film’s human villains. The cascade of chance events that lead to our poor farmer’s downfall border on the sadistic.

Shortly after its release, Money was selected for submission to the Asia Pacific Film Festival, the most prestigious film event in Asia at that time. Nonetheless at the last minute the government decided to block the submission because its depiction of Korean society was deemed to be too pessimistic. (They substituted Han Hyeong-mo’s comedy Hyperbola of Youth, another interesting work, though of a much different style.) The film community protested on Kim So-dong’s behalf, but to no avail, and this remarkable film missed out on its best chance of reaching an international audience.

Darcy Paquet
Film director: KIM So-dong
Year: 1958
Running time: 124'
Country: South Korea
02/05 - 2:00 PM
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
02-05-2024 14:00 02-05-2024 16:04Europe/Rome Money Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine
Online in Italy until the end of the Festival