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The Scam
The Scam

The scammers of The Scam.


Year: 2009  

Lee Ho-Jae


Lee Ho-Jae


Park Yong-Ha, Kim Min-Jeong, Park Hee-Soon, Kim Moo-Yeol, Jo Deok-Hyun, Kim Joon-Seong, Park Yong-Yeon, Park Jae-Woong, Sin Hyeon-Jong, Lee Yeong-Ih

  The Skinny: Slick and entertaining, Korea's first stock market film is also its best stock market film, and has set high standards for all the Wall Street wannabes to come.
Kevin Ma:

Whoever did the English subtitles for the Korean film The Scam deserves a hefty bonus for all their extra work, taking financial terms like "booking price per share" in Korean and translating them back into English. Of course, his or her work is miniscule compared to the two years of research first-time writer/director Lee Ho-Jae did for what is being branded as Korea's first stock market movie. But Lee's film is no Wall Street - The Scam is actually a slick heist film that happens to use the stock market and illegal stock rigging as its heist tool of choice.

Lee assembles all the typical heist film elements here: the "innocent" outsider, the clueless dopes, the doublecrosses and even the violent but brainless gangsters. But the important thing about The Scam is not that it possesses clichés, but that they're presented in an entertaining and enjoyable manner. Instead of sparing no details on his complicated stock-rigging scam, Lee has instead created characters that are interesting to watch, making the film worth following even when the audience (especially those that have to read subtitles) can't keep track of every single development.

Sadly, the most interesting character doesn't happen to be "good guy" Hyun-Soo (TV star Park Yong-Ha). A full-time trader nicknamed "ant", Hyun-Soo stumbles onto the film's titular scam after making a fortune from what he sees as an obvious stock rig, i.e. a stock with prices rigged by people using rumors to control its value. Even though his character's ambition for greed makes him a potentially intriguing anti-hero, he's relegated to typical good guy status once the scam gets rolling, making him just another righteous pretty person to follow.

Instead, the most charismatic character is Park Hee-Soon's former gangster-turned-stock rigger Jong-Goo. Playing a violent thug dressed in expensive suits and starting every other sentence with the English word “Okay”, Park commands the screen. His "smooth operator" act is obviously forced, but Park gives it just the right amount of crudeness, and steals every scene he's in. Similarly fun to watch is Kim Joon-Seong's "black-haired foreigner" Brian Choi, a fund manager that also plays a part in the scam and can't spend a scene without speaking in English, much to Jong-Goo's displeasure.

Along with financial planner Seo-Yeon (Kim Min-Jeong) and bonds broker Min-Hyung (Kim Moo-Yeol), the five are out to rig the stock of a construction company. By starting all kinds of false rumors and artificial buying trends, the riggers will make a large sum of money by essentially betting on stocks and their eventual prices. Or something like that. Hyun-Soo is only dragged into the scam because he accidentally derailed Jong-Goo's last stock rig, and soon finds himself in the middle of a whole lot of mistrust and under-the-table dealings. However, all Hyun-Soo really wants is to make it through alive.

Viewers who don't know much about the stock market will likely be lost at points about the actual scam of The Scam, and Lee seems to know that. While there's plenty of stock talk throughout the film to make Lee's convoluted game appear clever and convincing, he keeps the focus on the stakes more than on the game itself. Even though we're never quite sure what these characters are doing to win, we know how far they'll go and how much they have to lose. Even when there's almost no action (except for Jong-Goo's gangster-style outbursts) and no real suspense (how can anyone actually make online stock trading suspenseful anyway?), Lee's quick pacing and his characters make The Scam entertaining.

On the other hand, Lee's script provides the weakest aspect of the film. The audience most likely knows that rigging stocks is wrong, but Lee tries too hard to make the film mean more it does. The characters and their situations are enough for the film to be involving, but Lee also injects some kind of lesson about humanity throughout the second half of the film. The most glaring example shows up during the end credits, when Lee includes what seems to be a deleted scene featuring a stock guru preaching to Hyun-Soo just before a pivotal plot twist. If Lee had the sense to cut the scene out of the story, there's no need to bring it back, especially since it's distracting, and the didacticism may end up leaving a bad taste in the audiences' mouths.

Nevertheless, most of what's come before is slick entertainment presented with Hollywood-standard production values. There's no melodramatic twist, no terminal illness, no overacting - just pretty people in polished locations doing things no ordinary filmgoer would dream to do. Even if The Scam isn't as clever as it's packaged to be, just the dream fulfillment aspect of the story makes this more than a worthwhile sit. (Kevin Ma, 2009)


DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
2-Disc Special Edition
KD Media
16 x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Korean Subtitles
Various Extras

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