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Jo Jin Woong (Actor) | Honey Lee (Actor) | Kang Shin Il (Actor) | Yoon Byeong Hee (Actor)
This professional review refers to Black Money (Blu-ray) (Korea Version)
Not only has veteran director Chung Ji Young spent much of his career making socially conscious films, he has also been an outspoken advocate concerning government policies that affect the film industry. It's no surprise that Black Money, his first directorial effort in seven years, is another riveting and angry indictment of the system.
However, Black Money is a considerably more commercial and audience-friendly work than his previous film, National Security. This time, Chung and his writer Han Hyeon Geun use the "lone crusader takes on the system" formula to recreate a real-life controversy that raised questions about collusion between the government and the banking sector. The names have been changed, but keen observers of Korean politics and finance gossip will immediately recognize that the film is based on equity firm Lone Star Funds' takeover of Korea Exchange Bank in 2003 and its subsequent attempt at selling it in 2011.
Black Money is somewhat of a spiritual continuation of 2018's Default, which covered the 1997 IMF negotiations following the crippling Asian financial crisis. While that film covered the fallout of the crisis from various angles, Black Money focuses on the efforts of one (fictional) man: mid-level prosecutor Yang Min Hyuk (Jo Jin Woong). Nicknamed "Bulldozer" by his colleagues for his relentlessness, Yang finds his name tainted when he is accused of sexual assault in a dead suspect's suicide note. While trying to clear his name, he discovers that her death is tied to an investigation on a major bank illegally undervaluing itself to secure a sale to a foreign equity fund.
Yang's prime motivation – to clear his tainted reputation rather than pursuing "the right thing" – immediately makes him a hero worth rooting for, even when that determination drives him to commit shady investigation tactics such as illegal wiretapping, stealing documents and even climbing over the front gate of a suspect's home without a warrant. Chung and Han depict Yang to be working in a system so bound in bureaucratic red tape and cronyism that only extreme measures can ensure that the truth will be uncovered. That drive also results in several crowd-pleasing jokes that lighten up the proceedings.
Han's script and Chung's breakneck pacing mean that a large amount of the financial jargon thrown around may go over the heads of normal viewers. However, Yang's down-to-earth nature and star Jo Jin Woong's immensely likable everyman persona will keep audiences gripped throughout the complex exposition. As the equity fund legal advisor who stands between her career and her conscience, Honey Lee is equally solid in her performance as Yang's unlikely collaborator. On the other hand, Lee Sung Min is sadly wasted in his nearly wordless cameo as the Chief Prosecutor.
Considering that the case had yet to be wrapped up by the time of the film's release, Black Money’s impassioned finale is almost too wishy-washy compared to the events that led up to it. However, it doesn't dilute Chung's voice as a furious storyteller who is doing the cinematic equivalent of screaming "J'accuse!" on top of a pedestal. In balancing its need to entertain and its desire to inspire rage against the system, Black Money is an unqualified success.
by Kevin Ma
Other Versions of "Black Money (Blu-ray) (Korea Version)"
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- Black Money (DVD) (Japan Version) DVD Region 2
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- Black Money (2019) (DVD) (Taiwan Version) DVD Region 3
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