It is impossible to avoid comparisons to the 2015 American film The Big Short when talking about this South Korean drama. Set during the 1997 Asian currency meltdown, Default is a film that covers the impending bankruptcy of South Korea from three different perspectives. A Senior financial analyst who tries to warn her sexist government the country will be broke in just one week, a former banker who sees the financial collapse of his country as the investment opportunity of a lifetime, and the people of the country who are about to experience the worst financial crisis in history.
From a country that is coming off the heels of its own financial crisis where the government told us that failing companies who engaged in poor business practices were ‘too big to fail’, there is a lot to learn with this film. Default much like The Big Short is an engaging story, despite having to overcome its own heavy-handed storytelling. Dealing with different people and different perspectives, the problem I found is that it’s hard to be upset at the people the movie wants you to be angry with. ‘Blame the banks’ is a popular narrative for far-left groups, but the crux of the story isn’t as cut and dry as its shown. The real problem is people who either can’t see a bad deal when it’s presented to them or they are too desperate to say no when it’s the right thing to do.
Han (Kim Hye-soo) is the leading woman who is trying to get an incompetent government to warn the people of the harsh reality that faces them, the problem with her position is, there really isn’t much that they can do for the people at this point. The country is a week from collapse and warning them does little to help those who will be affected the most. The battle with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) is conflicting because while the group is clearly taking liberties with Korea’s downfall, the country itself doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on while asking them for 60 billion dollars to save their economy in the first place. While the clear solution is letting the country go broke, that solution doesn’t help the people Han wishes to aid which means her position has no leverage.
The side plot involves Yun Jeong-hak (Yoo Ah-in) who knows the collapse is coming and uses it as an opportunity to make a ton of money and become a major power player in the process. While I feel his side was the most intriguing in the film, not only do we not get enough time with him but his character portrayal is very uneven. Yun clearly displays as much intelligence as the main character of Han being smartened up to what is taking place, not buying the governments lies, but then they at times portrays him as a complete sociopath making him a difficult character to empathize with, unlike Han except Yun represents 1/3 of your film.
There are many cautionary tales to be learned here even from an American point of view. As the country passes 21 Trillion Dollars in debt, many wonder how long it will be before the bottom falls out of our own blooming crisis. As for Default, while there are clear flaws that drag down its own brilliance, you can’t ignore the powerful message that it has.