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Beasts That Cling to the Straw

Beasts Clawing at Straws
Lucky Strike / Beasts Clinging at Straws

South Korea 2020
produced by
Billy Acumen, Kin Jin-Sun for B.A. Entertainment, Megabox Plus M
directed by Kim Yong-hoon
starring Jeon Do-yeon, Jung Woo-sung, Bae Sung-Woo, Youn Yuh-jung, Jeong Man-sik, Jin Kyung, Shin Hyun-been, Jung Ga-ram, Park Ji-hwan, Kim Jun-han, Heo Dong-won, Bae Chin-Woong, Kwon Hyuk-bum
screenplay by Kim Yong-hoon, based on a novel by Keisuke Sone, music by Kang Nene

review by
Mike Haberfelner

Available on DVD !

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Three at first sight totally unrelated stories:

Joong-man (Bae Sung-woo), a lowly cleaner at a sauna, finds a bag full of money in one of the lockers, a bag that remains unclaimed for several days, and even though he really could use the cash, he at first resists temptation to just grab it, just in case the rightful owner comes to claim it. But then his superior (Heo Dong-won), an arrogant upstart half his age, fires him on a whim, upon which he decides to grab the money after all, feeling he deserves it. And then when his problems really start ...

Tae-young (Jung Woo-sung), an immigration officer, owes half a fortune to loan shark Park (Jeong Man-sik), money that he can't pay back since his girlfriend Yeon-hee (Jeon Do-yeon) skipped town with his dough. Now he makes up scam after scam with his pal Carp to scam people out of their money just to pay Park back, but none works, and Park's getting restless and has Tae-young and Carp followed. And then, out of the blue, Yeon-hee returns and tries to get on his good side again - but she has an unexpectedly homicidal side to her ...

Prostitute Mi-ran (Shin Hyun-been) can't bear being beaten up by her husband anymore, so she uses one of her johns, Jin-tae (Jung Ga-ram), to kill him - but make it look like an accident so she can collect the insurance money. Thing is, Jin-tae kills the wrong guy, then loses his nerve and wants to go to the police, so Mi-ran has to kill him. However, she finds an unexpected ally in her boss, who helps her kill her husband for real and get rid of the body. But her boss, who just happens to be Yeon-hee from the story above, isn't exactly in it for altruism but for the insurance money ...

 

Even if Beasts Clawing at Straws is based on a Japanese novel, the story has something unmistakingly Korean to it, as it seems South Korean filmmakers (and I know I'm over-generalizing here) have long made an artform out of thrillers throwing everyday losers into situations much too big for them without identifying any clear heroes or villains (actually a popular ploy in film noir cinema of old as well), and this is a very good example for this. That's not at all to say Beasts Clawing at Straws is an at all formulaic movie though, as its story is full of very surprising twists and turns, down to the point how the three stories are tied together, and the way the stories are told in an only seemingly parallel manner is quite masterful, though without drawing too much attention to the narrative device, instead focusing on the actual story. And a strong cast and subtle directorial effort really help make this one pretty awesome thriller.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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