Crime film revisits Lone Star case
The new white-collar crime film, “Black Money” aims to reignite dialogue about a prominent financial scandal that hit Korea in the early 2000s.
“The purpose of this film is to share the story of the case, so we can discuss and debate what happened to make this society better,” director and writer Chung Ji-young said during a press conference for the film held at Yongsan CGV in Seoul, Monday.
The film is based on the financial scandal triggered by the U.S.-based private equity firm Lone Star Funds’ investment in Korea. The firm acquired Korean Exchange Bank (KEB) in 2003 by taking a 51.02 percent stake. It exited Korea in 2012 after making a profit of 4.9 trillion won.
The legality and procedure of the firm’s acquisition stirred a debate as Korea’s fifth-largest bank was approved to be sold, despite a local law limiting private firms owning a certain percentage of the controlling shares of a bank, at an extremely low price.
The arbitration case between an investor and the state is ongoing since the firm filed a suit against the Korean government in November 2012 seeking over $4.7 billion for delaying the approval of selling KEB shares.
The real-world case inspired Chung to shoot a film on the topic.
He created fictional characters and added stories to turn it into a film. Prosecutor Yang Min-hyeok (Cho Jin-woong) is falsely accused of sexually harassing a woman he was investigating. She commits suicide and leaves a note that tells the story. As he digs into her suicide case to clear his name, he finds out that she was a key witness in a financial scandal involving government figures.
As he was writing the film, Chung said he spent years studying the case and met over 600 people related to the scandal.
“I, myself, do not know much about how the economy works, so I had to study a lot. It was such a nation-rocking scandal from the early 2000s to 2012, so I’d heard about it. But when I actually tried to get to the bottom of the case, it didn’t come easy,” said the director.
As he had to approach such a complicated case, he said his biggest goal was to lay the story out simply but also as comprehensively and interestingly as possible. The director is famous for films based on true stories, such as “Unbowed” (2011) and “National Security” (2012), which shed light on corruption in society.
But unlike his previous work, he said he tried to stay away from putting an emphasis on realistic depictions to make it into a more enjoyable film. “For my previous films, I focused on making them as similar to the real story as possible, but for this one, I thought more about making such a difficult subject easier for people to understand.”
“The story is about the economy and revealing corruption. But most people want to watch a humorous film that they can make sense of,” he said. “Many people would say ‘my life is already hard enough, why would I want to watch an investigative film’, so I had do my best to make it fun and convincing.”
Min-hyeok unintentionally gets involved in a financial case, although he had nothing to do with financial-related prosecution. He learns the terms and the field as he goes, which helps the audience to take in complex issues in a simpler sense.
The director revealed that he intentionally set the character as a non-economic expert because he wanted the audience to follow along with the character.
As the director intended, actor Cho leads as a headstrong character fiercely chasing after clues to a government organization’s involvement in the scandal.
Cho said he felt like he was getting ripped off when he read the script. “I knew about the case but I got so mad after learning about the background of the scandal and how it faded from the public’s attention,” he said.
Referring to the film as a “vaccine,” he emphasized how important it is to be aware of the issue. “For those who have neglected and ignored societal issues, this film could serve as a vaccine, as it made me realize and open my eyes to such issues.”
Actor Cho Jin-woong, from left, director Chung Ji-young and actress Lee Ha-nee pose for pictures during a media conference for new crime drama film “Black Money” held at Yongsan CGV in Seoul, Monday.