Adapting author Keisuke Sone’s 2011 novel for the big screen, writer/director Kim Young-hoon’s Beasts Clawing At Straws weaves a chilling, oftentimes clever tale about greed and desperation.
The story is told in pulp format with five chapters to its body until the remaining twenty minutes when things catch up, firstly introducing Joong-man (Bae Sung-woo), a sauna worker who stumbles upon a Louis Vuitton bag left by a patron in one of the lockers. Time passes by and the bag is never picked up, so Joong-man opens what turns out to be a bag full of cash, then deciding to hide it in storage until he figures out what to do with it, or someone comes asking about it.
Another sequence of events introduces Tae-young (Jung Woo-sung), a Port Officer who owes a great deal of money to a loan shark named Doo-Man (Jeong Man-sik) whose right-hand man, Meki (Bae Jin-Woong), is a butcher with no compunction for how he likes his particular delicacies. Following up, we meet Mi-ran (Shin Hyun-Bin), who is forced to work off her debts as a hostess while trapped in an abusive marriage after losing big in the stock market.
Each of these stories have multiple players, but only one connects each as the root source of the deception, desperation and surprise twists that ensue around the aforementioned bag full of cash in Beasts Clawing At Straws. For this, out of all the co-stars in the film, the one that deserves most of your attention is Yeon-hee (Jeon Do-yeon), Mi-ran’s boss who doesn’t appear until much later in the film, and who herself stands to gain heavily from the bag in addition to Doo-Man.
Tae-young himself has all the reason in the world to utilize that money himself, but that’s long before an attempt to sucker an old friend trying to leave the country off radar nearly goes bust with pesky detective Myung-goo (Yoon Je-moon) looming over Tae-young’s shoulder. It’s one twist among several in the film that leads to grisly results, in addition to Mi-ran’s brisk affair with Jin-tae (Jung Ga-ram), a half-Chinese patron at the bar where she works.
Most interestingly, Kim explicitly implores you to pay attention to the bag as it’s the main focus of the opening and closing shot of the film altogether; The bag is a minor detail compared to the characters, but it’s as important as the background audibles of the opening sequence in the bathhouse going forward.
Beasts Clawing At Straws isn’t all doom and gloom though, especially with its precocious 70’s caper-style ending. The film is cleverly written and executed, featuring line-up of some very dicey characters who are bound to get what’s coming to them in some way or another, regardless of their circumstances. To this affect, it’s a story where the ends justify the means, in a sense, culminating a story in Beasts Clawing At Straws that’s as punishing and titilating as it is vindicating.
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