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South Korea 2009


Lee Ho-jae

Park Yong-ha
Kim Min-jeong
Park Hee-soon
Kim Moo-yeol
Jo Deok-hyeon
Kim Joon-seong
Jo Jae-yoon
Yoo Seung-mok
Park Yong-yeon

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The Scam

Story: Kang Hyeon-su (Park Yong-ha) has made a few wrong financial decisions and is just about to commit suicide when he changes his mind and starts working as a private broker in order to get his money back. He buys and sells stocks on a daily basis until one day an obvious stock fraud catches his eye, as the price of a stock is artificially screwed up. He uses his knowledge to get a good amount of money out of this. However, the boss of a successful company, Hwang Jong-ku (Park Hee-soon), isn't too happy about this, as this fraud was actually supposed to make him richer. As the former gangster he is, he brings Hyeon-su on board and forces him to work with him on a big coup. This stock fraud, which financial planner Yoo Seo-yeon (Kim Min-jeong) is part of, too, is about a swindle that is supposed to earn Hwang and his bond broker Jo Min-hyeong (Kim Moo-yeol) as well as his fund manager Brian Choi (Kim Joon-seong) around 60 million dollar. Hyeon-su apparently won't see a singly penny of it. But it gets even worse. At some point Hyeon-su starts to realize that he will be the scapegoat when everything is said and done and that he has to for fear for his life. Luckily, Hyeon-su still has some tricks up his sleeve.

Review: "The Scam" is Korea's first stock market movie and managed to do a good job at the, too. The problem with such movies is of course that they are aiming at a certain circle of audience. Those who aren't familiar with all the terms and terminology of the stock market language surely will be a little bit lost on several occasions. Fortunately, "The Scam" is also just a simple heist-film, which means that in a broader sense it is about a heist and the team that plans it. Since this heist is taking place at the stock market the director naturally has the chance to make his film play in a completely different environment, including men in suits, expensive cars, luxeriously furnished mansions and stock brokers that move around millions with a few mouse clicks. The polished look of the movie can be quite appealing, nonetheless, this doesn't change the fact that the tension falls a bit by the wayside. Naturally, that's a problem that goes hand in hand with the subject because what is actually thrilling about watching some digits go up and down? Even if the behavior of those numbers is linked to the whole existence of some individuals.

As in every movie about a big coup the focus first lies on the team whose different members have to be introduced. And here the director makes use of some clichés. Hyeon-su is the outsider brought into play and one of the good guys forced to be part of this whole operation. Mastermind of the whole job is a charismatic and always cool-looking boss who is actually coming out of the gangster milieu but at some point thought that it would be nice to open a business company with a little bit more style. Since that time he wears shoes with his name's initials on their sole. Then there is Min-hyeong who is absolutely not happy about the newcomer as he is the one who cost him a good amount of money during the former deal. There is an unexpected funny element finding its way into the movie with Brian Choi who is using English in every other sentence and grinds his bosses gear by doing so. Also, this is the first time in a Korean movie that a Korean speaks perfect English! However, it's in fact so good that we have to assume that Kim Joon-seong either actually has been brought up abroad to live abroad for a while.

Then there is also Kim Min-jeong ("Flying Boys", "The Forbidden Quest") as Yoo Seo-yeon. Her big round eyes instantly awaken men's protective instinct, and this even though she is a calculating and oftentimes rather cold businesswoman, who didn't get into the position she is in now by mere luck. She is always one step ahead of her colleagues and only starts to defrost when she meets the more childish Hyeon-su. Towards the end there is almost a love relationship unfolding, but the movie only hints at it so that you don't need to worry about the film becoming a drama in the end. "The Scam" is a stock market thriller and also doesn't try to be anything else. And that's a good thing. Even though this statement maybe has to be relativized in the respect that director Lee Ho-jae tries to appeal to morality at the end. Especially the epilogue that is inserted into the end credits and feels truely out of place stresses this. But how can Lee talk about morality when he introduces us to characters who stand completely outside of such borders?

Hyeon-su may be one of the good guys but it's still a fact that he earns his money with stock fraud, too. He gets richer when others get poorer. That's capitalism as he admits in a pretty proud manner right at the beginning. And what about Yoo Seo-yeon? She apparently is also to be counted among the good guys, yet earns her money by laundering that of others. No, there are no good guys here and even if shades of grey are always welcome in a thriller, there is still someone lacking we can sympathize with. But that's also because the drawing of the characters has fallen by the wayside, too. Many of the introduced characters are simply sketched out quite roughly. This is where one of the script's weaknesses becomes apparent. Despite the research of actor-turned-director Lee Ho-jae the screenplay has some deficits. During the whole stock market fraud there is a good amount of terminology thrown at us, but how exactly all of this works remains unclear. There are some basics we are taught, but trading with stocks can't be that easy in the end, otherwise everyone could do it.

Naturally, it would have been fatal if director Lee hadn't knitted his movie in such a coarse way, because if he had done otherwise "The Scam" only would have been comprehensible for stock brokers. There is just the problem that the film lacks some real tension because of its sometimes rather dry subject, even if obviously the director wanted to pep things up with some tricks, like gangsters and brawls he inserted. However, it's not enough to entertain the audience until the end. There are often some drop-downs concerning the pacing that could have been avoided with a well-balanced script. A lot of things are only touched, too, e.g. Hyeon-su's family, and thus there are mainly the luxurious sets and polished pictures that can really impress. What's laudable, though, is that contrary to similiar films the viewer can always keep track of the events unfolding despite some twists. The rest of the movie doesn't offer anything new, yet transfers the all too familiar heist-story into a refreshingly different milieu. "The Scam" isn't the next big thing, but at least it delivers some nice alternation for all those who want to see a Korean movie again that doesn't fall into the category of romanic comedy.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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