By Lee Hyo-won
The box office can be as difficult to predict as the stock market, and South Korean cinema in particularly is suffering amid the global financial crisis. "The Scam
", the country's first stock market movie, will undoubtedly prove to be a smart investment. Unlike its scamming characters, newcomer director Lee Ho-jae-I
invests the right way, with a solid, "inflation-free" script and the magic chemistry of a talented cast.
The crime drama draws in viewers without becoming too technical, as it is more about the human desire for wealth than financial matters. Losing tens of millions of won in the stock market can be only a click away on the Internet. "Click", and hopeless debtors head to the Han River.
Hallyu star Park Yong-ha
(SBS's "On Air"
) sheds his sleek image to play Hyeon-su, a victim of such a fatal click. After losing everything, he spends five years glued to the computer screen as an unshaven, full-time "ant" (individual investor). He eventually reaches the top of the game after a painful diet of instant noodles and sacrificing the cost of three luxury sedans. He vows to quit once and for all when he achieves his goal, a nine-digit savings account that will support his mother and studious younger brother.
One day he hits the jackpot, not knowing that there are repercussions to disrupting a stock market scam. He ignites the fury of Hwang, a gangster-turned-financier bidding for entry into the top percentile of the rich and powerful. Park Hee-soon
) brings another fresh mobster persona, who feigns elegance in his initialized Italian shoes, only to resort to kicking people for dramatic effect. He also begins every sentence with an "OK" even though he cannot tolerate the full English phrasings of his Korean-American partner.
Hwang, however, doesn't dwell on past indiscretions. He recognizes Hyeon-su's talents and employs him for the biggest scam yet, also giving him a nice makeover. Hyeon-su joins the other members of Hwang's dream team for the 60 billion won heist: Min-hyeong, an elite stock broker who doubles as the think tank of fraudulent trades (musical star Kim Moo-yeol
makes his big screen debut); sexy private banker Seo-yeon (Kim Min-jung
of MBC's "New Heart"
); Park, a second-generation chaebol CEO facing a management crisis (veteran supporting actor Jo Duk-hyun
); and Bryan (Kim Joon-sung
, "West 32nd
"), a Korean-American fund manager who fakes foreign investment as a "black-haired foreigner".
These are professional stock gamblers who win the house by reading everyone else's cards. They opt for new scientific technology, the cream of the crop for stock scams. Park's chaebol company invests heavily in a friend's new environmental research and Seo-yeon has one of her clients buy the company's shares. They have a famous broadcaster hype public attention while Bryan creates the illusion of foreign investment, and the cash starts flowing in from blind "ants".
A bigger scam, however, unfolds within the ring of scam artists. Outsider Hyeon-su becomes the ultimate insider as he becomes the pawn in a tangled web of backstabbing intrigue.
As much as the film is about people sitting around gnawing away at money matters and monitoring stock transactions online, space is strictly limited to rooms with computers. Nonetheless, "The Scam
" never loses its speedy narrative flow and dramatic tension, which is edged with humor.
Moreover, it draws in viewers with a full cast of idiosyncratic characters that breathe with life no matter how small their roles are ― the fruits of the writer/director's interviews, over a course of two years, with actual people in the stock business. In these times of economic woes, such a smart film investment will benefit not only the makers of the movie but moviegoers as well.
In theaters Feb. 12. 119 minutes. 18 and over. Distributed by Showbox/Mediaplex.