BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS (2020)
Kim Yong Hoon
Desperate schemers see their lives intertwined by a bag of cash in a promising directorial debut
The full tour-de-force of crime genre characters and set-ups get an outing in Kim Yong Hoon inauguration in the director’s chair.
The heavily-tattooed loan shark gangsters, the down-on-his-luck chancer needing to pay them back in a week, the every-man who discovers a bag of cash, and the domestic violence victim with the new boyfriend who will kill for her.
Most would have seen these set-ups before and they are all given a pulpy treatment here, bringing those strands together in the film’s final act.
If a film is derivative or a homage to a much-loved genre hinges largely on how well these elements work in their new iteration. On this front, Beasts Clawing at Straws does enough as a well-trodden route eventually leads us down some unexpected paths.
We first meet Jung Man (Bae Sung Woo), who struggles by working at a sauna while he takes care of his sick mother at home. One day he finds a bag of cash in a sauna locker, hopeful that its owner will not return.
Tae Young (Jung Woo Sung) finds himself at the mercy of ruthless loan sharks after borrowing funds and then seeing his girlfriend (Jeon Do Yeon) disappear with the stash.
Finally, we have Mi Ran (Shin Hyun Bin), who is wedged between an abusive husband at home and dead-end work as a bar hostess. She meets Jin Tae (Jung Ga Ram), they start an affair before he offers to kill her husband.
There is plenty to keep us interested as the toxic cocktail of desperation and the carrot of a better life blend to disastrous effect. The root of so much evil, a Louis Vuitton bag of won offers plenty of incentive.
The character flips do stretch the story development in parts, particularly as Mi Ran and Jin Tae go from chance meeting to full husband-killer mode in a matter of on-screen minutes.
It is a first outing for director Kim Yong Hoon and there is plenty here to suggest better things await as Beasts is a well-managed affair.
As Special Jury Prize winner at the Rotterdam Film Festival, you might expect more from the film, but there is still plenty to shock and awe once the film's generic strands come together. The film’s final act was probably the main force behind its accolade victory.
Some of the audience enjoyment might hinge on the depth of genre knowledge they take into it. For the regular crime viewers, there is a too much of the standard fare. Taken as a film in isolation, there’s plenty to enjoy from this spiralling view of human nature and what a big bag of money will do to someone.