South Korea produced last year's Oscar-winner for Best Picture, "Parasite," against all odds. That film was the South Korea's first in history to garner any accolades from the Academy, so naturally in its wake, people have been awaiting the next gem to come out of the country. That gem has arrived with "Beasts Clawing at Straws," a black-comedy crime thriller that will be available on VOD Tuesday, December 15th, 2020, and is most-worthy of seeking out.
Other than being made in South Korea, with subtitles and a full cast of South Korean actors that aren't recognizable by Western audiences, the similarities between "Beasts Clawing at Straws" and "Parasite" end there. "Beasts" is a lesser film, to be sure, but it's fun, sprawling and unpredictable, made with style and confidence by first-time filmmaker, Yong-hoon Kim. Kim not only directed, but he also adapted the film for the screen from a popular 2011 Japanese novel by Keisuke Sone.
It's the sort of story that the Coen Brothers, or Quentin Tarantino would have ate up (don't be surprised if an English-language adaptation is far off in the future), where greed rules the day. A cast of morally-bankrupt characters doing despicable things is always ripe for laughs when played that way, and "Beasts" definitely milks its situations for full comedic effect. But it's main achievement is how it weaves all of these characters together, creating a story yarn that is just delightful to see unravel and untangle, often in ways you don't see coming.
The only "innocent" player in all of this madness is Jung Man-sik (Park Doo-man), a hard-working janitor at a sauna, who happens to come across a giant duffle-bag stuffed to the brim with money. Nobody claims the thing, so - the good shepherd that he is - he puts it away in storage thinking that surely the rightful owner will come to claim it. When his jerk boss fires him - and with his ailing mom in his care - he decides to sneak back to work and take the money for himself...it doesn't go as planned.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Other characters come in and out of the movie, all with their own agenda and reasons for seeking "the bag." The bag changes hand, characters are shockingly extinguished, the seedy underworld of South Korea is exposed. Told in a time-bending way that would make "Pulp Fiction" proud, "Beasts" keeps you guessing, invested not only in who is going to end up with the money, but at what expense. You find yourself rooting for no one in particular, just sitting back and enjoying the chaos.
Man, I don't know the last time I've truly enjoyed a ride a movie has taken me on more than "Beasts Clawing at Straws." It may not be quite up to the high-level that "Parasite" was on, but it comes damn close, and if seen by enough people, South Korea would once again be in the mix for some awards love this year.
Genre: Foreign, Crime, Drama, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 48 minutes.
Starring: Do-yeon Jeon, Woo-sung Jung, Sung-Woo Bae, Ga-ram Jung.
Written and Directed by Yong-hoon Kim (feature-film debut).
"Beasts Clawing At Straws" is available on VOD on Friday, December 11th, 2020.
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