"I'm sorry for everything. Don't feel too bad... you killed three people, after all.
When you strike it rich you can't trust anyone, not even your parents..."


Synopsis:

Joong-man (Bae Sung-woo) works at a local spa/sauna, struggling to provide for his Alzheimer’s stricken mother (Youn Yuh-Jung) and wife; Tae-yeong (Jung Woo-sung) increasingly faces physical harm from a loan shark after borrowing money for his girlfriend, Yeon-hee (Jeon Do-yeon), who ran off and disappeared with the cash; and Mi-ran (Shin Hyun-bin) has to work at a hostess bar to try to claw back money scammed from her, regularly and repeatedly being beaten by her abusive husband for her ‘stupidity’.
Wholly separate though each of these destitute people's dire situations is, a Louis Vuitton bag brimming with a small fortune in money will soon set their desperate lives on a brutal collision course in a bloody and visceral cat and mouse game...



Review:

Based on Keisuke Sone’s Japanese novel of the same name, Beasts Clawing at Straws opens with the cash-laden bag in question shown full frame as it’s carried by an as yet unknown individual (out of shot apart from his legs) through corridors and around corners to its final destination in a storage locker in the sauna.
Shortly thereafter, Joong-man finds it during his cleaning duties and on seeing the absolute fortune it contains moves it to lost and found shelving, almost hiding it in the hope that if its owner doesn’t return he’ll finally be set for life. However, while this certainly is pretty much the beginning of Joong-man’s story, and indeed his wife’s, this setup and situation comes far later in the other main characters’ arcs and we’ll eventually come to the realisation that the initially seemingly separate narrative threads are asynchronous rather than concurrent and indeed all ultimately related.
This non-concurrence is further pointed to in news headline broadcasts that can be heard as Joong-man cleans a different area of the sauna prior to discovering the bag. These types of news announcements of course occur fairly often in cinema in general and Korean film in particular, most referencing occurrences taking place before the beginning of a movie’s main narrative overall.
However, while that is the case from Joong-man’s perspective in Beasts Clawing at Straws (though he doesn’t yet realise they relate directly to his immediate future) for others the headlines stand at the very end of their character arcs, viewers gradually being shown the various story threads leading to those culminating events.





You might assume that referencing such later to be revealed pivotal moments so early on could risk giving the game away too soon but the news headlines remain vague on specifics more than simply male killed in a road accident; female body parts discovered etc. and as such they serve to more whet the appetite rather than mar story culminations.
Not only that, but with Beasts Clawing at Straws being both intricate and unpredictably twisted (for the most part) viewers can be virtually guaranteed to meet characters’ end-of-tether actions and selfish betrayals with gleeful surprise in spite of already having heard those 'headlines'. In fact, even moments fairly easily able to be figured out in advance (and there are a few) brought me, at least, a self-satisfied feeling of getting it right rather than coming across as predictable, per se.

I use the word ‘gleeful’ above with absolute and deliberate intent for a darkly humorous (often jet black) tone pervades the entire narrative perfectly. Little is outwardly comedic (and that’s a plus point, too) but the manner in which director Kim Yong-hoon manages and wholly succeeds in bringing satisfied, even guilty, audience smiles repeatedly in a story so full of betrayal, murder and mayhem is a sight to behold (take, for example, a character sitting nonchalantly on the bathroom floor with the legs of a naked murder victim sticking up in the air out of the bath while another character looks on in utter incredulity).
In a similar way to how Ahn Gook-jin's Alice in Earnestland handled brutality, tongue in cheek, and brought an undeniable mirth to murder, the subtle drollness brought to the thrills in Beasts Clawing at Straws ensures it will stay in the mind far longer and more fondly than any normal, throwaway cat and dog murderous tale would or could.







This is of course helped yet further by exemplary performances from an absolutely top notch, A-list cast and as such it almost goes without saying that the chemistry (or indeed hatred) between characters is absolutely palpable throughout, strengthening all of the above greatly in the process. Not only that, but the entire cast also without exception clearly revelled in this twisted tale and its devilish characterisations virtually guaranteeing that audiences will feel exactly the same and happily and excitedly follow them on their various selfish and brutal endeavours to get their hands on the cash in that increasingly elusive Louis Vuitton bag.

Summary:

Beasts Clawing at Straws is a twisted cat and mouse tale of betrayal and mayhem with a genuinely droll tone throughout, virtually guaranteeing audience enjoyment and even (guilty) smiles in the face of murder.

 


 

BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS (지푸라기라도잡고싶은짐승들) / 2020
Director: Kim Yong-hoon
Starring: Jeon Do-yeon, Jung Woo-sung, Bae Sung-woo, Youn Yuh-jung, Shin Hyun-bin

 




All images © Megabox Plus M
Review © Paul Quinn