Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Beasts Clawing at Straws: More Korean Noir, a Whole Lot More

We have a modern banking system precisely so people do not have to carry around large sums of cash. Those who still do, probably have a very good reason to avoid regulatory-mandated reporting. That includes pretty much all the thugs, grifters, and losers in Kim Yong-hoon’s Beasts Clawing at Straws, which opens today in select theaters (but of course not New York).

There is a Louis Vuitton bag full of cash. It could be a fake, but that’s not really the point. It is not entirely clear who it started with, but it will change hands many times. To make matters a bit more complicated, Kim somewhat shuffles around the order events,
Pulp Fiction-style. There is Tae-young, a corrupt customs worker, who is working a scam to pay-off the loan shark. His lover Yeon-hee left him holding the bag for her debts with Park Du-man, a less than understanding loan shark. Tae-young hopes to make a big score scamming an old school chum, but his mark is scared off by sleazy detective.

Meanwhile, Yeon-hee manages a dodgy club, employing Mi-ran, a manipulative prostitute, who convinces a punky Chinese gangster to kill her abusive husband. Eventually, one of these scammers will leave that fateful bag of cash in a locker of the spa (presumably not by choice), where luckless sad sack Jung-man gets belittled by his younger boss for low wages. When he finds the bag, it leads to an ethical crisis and considerable danger.

is a maniacal throw-back to vintage Tarantino that is shamelessly bloody and savagely amusing. This is definitely a one-damned-thing-after-(or-before)-another kind of movie. Kim gets medieval with his cast, who dig in and torment each other mercilessly. Yet, honestly, Do-Yeon jeon plays Yeon-hee with such diva-like ruthlessness, she overshadows everyone.

Nevertheless, Jung Man-sik brings his usual grit and intensity as Park (in a bit of a departure from his frequent cop roles). Jung Woo-sung also plays memorably against type as Tae-young, the slimy mess, whereas Bae Sung-woo (from
Metamorphosis) reliably broods and stews as Jung-man, the poor plugger.

Yes sir, Korean thrillers are tough to beat.
Beasts is a bit more brutal than their national genre average, but really not by much. It is also slickly entertaining. In his first time out of the box, Kim shows a natural talent for mayhem. Highly recommended for fans of Korean noir, Beasts Clawing at Straws opens today in select theaters.