In 1987, Oliver Stone’s antihero Gordon Gekko captured the public imagination with cigar smoke-infused tales of insider trading in Wall Street. It’s said that Michael Douglas’ portrayal of the corporate raider even inspired some young Americans to join the ranks of the real Wall Street.
Come 2019, it’s Korea’s turn to take on the world of stock market manipulation: Park Noo-ri’s Money stars Ryu Jun-yeol (A Taxi Driver) as young stockbroker Jo Il-hyun, who gets drawn into the world of insider trading by shadowy fund manager “Ticket” (Yoo Ji-tae). After accidentally losing money for one of his clients and almost getting fired, Il-hyun is introduced to Ticket by a colleague—and executes a $50 million trade that puts him at the top of his team’s league table.
Il-hyun’s life quickly takes a turn for the better with his newfound earnings, as he buys a new apartment and catches the eye of his attractive colleague Park Si-eun (Won Jin-ah). Unfortunately, he also catches the eye of an investigator at Korea’s securities regulator—Han Ji-chul (Jo Woo-jin).
Greed is Good
While roughly true to the original plot of Wall Street, Money has a refreshed, modern take on the trappings of wealth—a style that reminds us more of the over-the-top presentation in The Wolf of Wall Street. Il-hyun declares that “life is long and filled with things to enjoy,” as he pops a bottle of champagne with his girlfriend in a private box at a football match. When the youth of today are more interested in buying experiences than things, Money‘s depiction of how a young, newly-minted millionaire might spend his wealth is far more likely to resonate with millennials than Bud Fox’s art purchases in Wall Street.
Money also raises the stakes beyond white collar crime by injecting high-octane action scenes into the latter half of the film. Ticket doesn’t just stop at trading insider information—he also actively manipulates the market by setting factories on fire, and even arrages hits on brokers that might expose his illicit operations. Brutal murders make Money as much an action thriller as a financial drama.
Korea’s Wall Street
However, what Money gains in its modernity and pace, it gives up in dramatic tension and character development. Ticket lacks the slick, superhuman presence of Gordon Gekko—there is no “greed is good” moment from Yoo Ji-tae’s character. While Gordon Gekko laid bare the harsh truths of modern capitalism—and in doing so made white collar crime look sexy—Ticket is simply a villain with unbounded corruption, who draws little empathy from the audience.
In that sense, Money is reminiscent of another recent Korean financial thriller: Default. Similar to Money, Default draws inspiration from an American classic (The Big Short), but traded elements that made its American predecessor a hit in the States for more dramatic, fast-paced storytelling.
However, these trade-offs do not make Money any less engaging—Il-hyun still makes being rich appear sexy, and the ultimate take-down of Ticket is actually more thrilling than Gordon Gekko’s downfall in 1987’s Wall Street. If you enjoyed watching Wall Street (or its sequel, Money Never Sleeps), give Money a chance—just don’t emulate its characters.
Money is screening in US theaters starting March 29, 2019. For theater locations and showtimes, visit CJ Entertainment.
Money (Korean: 돈) — South Korea. Directed by Park Noo-ri. First released February 2019. Running time 1 hour 55 minutes. Starring Ryu Jun-yeol, Yoo Ji-tae, Jo Woo-jin, Kim Jae-young, and Won Jin-ah.