VOD film review: Beasts Clawing at Straws
Daniel Broadley | On 06, Aug 2021
Director: Kim Yong-hoon
Cast: Youn Yuh-jung, Shin Hyun-bin, Jung Ga-ram, Jeon Do-yeon, Jung Woo-sung, Bae Sung-woo
Where to watch Beasts Clawing at Straws in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
South Korea has long been churning out all-time classics – from Park Chan-wook’s early 2000s revenge trilogy to Lee Chang-dong’s Burning – but has in recent years been going through something of a popularity boom in popularity, typified by Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 Oscar-winner Parasite and Lee Isaac Chung’s 2021 Oscar nominee Minari. While Beasts Clawing at Straws may not reach the masterful heights of the aforementioned films, it delivers a thoroughly entertaining escapade filled with the specific kind of South Korean dark humour audiences have come to know and love.
Couple the humour with its pulpy script – clunky dialogue readily included – and Kim Yong-hoon’s feature debut harks back to early Tarantino, Guy Ritchie and Coen brothers, bringing us a tale of everyday (and some not so everyday) people coming undone through greed. At the centre of the story is a bag of cash, which is found in a locker at a spa by a worker, Jung-man, who barely gets by looking after his elderly mother, playfully portrayed by the beloved Yuh-Jung Youn (who featured as the grandmother in Minari).
The majority of the film plays out in a non-linear fashion to tell how the bag got there. Surmising this minefield of a plot is a near impossible task, and that fact alone demonstrates how the film requires undivided attention and patience at first, as it grapples with its many overlapping narratives and characters. What it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in pure entertainment, twist satisfaction and humorous violence. Just some of the characters include: a customs officer-cum-con artist in debt to a violent mobster; a prostitute with a client who offers to murder her abusive husband; and, perhaps most satisfyingly, a humble airport cleaner.
Beasts Clawing at Straws has been doing the rounds at film festivals and won the Special Jury Award at 2020’s Rotterdam Film Festival, but its release has been, like so many others, hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unfortunate this won’t be getting a theatrical release in the UK – it’s easy to imagine this being enjoyed in a packed screen at a late weekend screening – so here’s hoping it still gets the attention it deserves.