A wild crime thriller about a bag of money left in a sauna and the eight strangers who, spurred by blinding greed, become intricately and dangerously involved with each. A fast-paced Coen-meets-The Grifters tale.
South Korea has produced some of the best genre films that have ever graced the silver screen, at least, in my humble opinion. Before Parasite (2019) walked away with the Oscar, we had brilliant offerings like Train to Busan (2016), Bedevilled (2010), The Man from Nowhere (2010) and the mind-blowing Vengeance Trilogy comprised of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Lady Vengeance (2005) with Oldboy in my personal top five films ever made. With Beasts Clawing at Straws causing a stir amongst critics and with a 100% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com at the time of this review, we here at Nevermore Horror needed to weigh in.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” (Sir Walter Scott, 1808)
Written and directed by Kim Yong-Hoon and staring the talents of Jeon Do-yeon, Jung Woo-sung, Bae Sung-Woo, Yun Yuh-Jung, Jung Man-Sik, Jin Gyeong, Shin Hyun-been, Kim Jun-Han, Jung Ga-Ram, Park Ji-Hwan, and Heo Dong-won, Beasts Clawing at Straws is a twisted, meandering tale of murder, deceit, lies and love. It is a window into the shadowy underbelly of seedy South Korean gangster culture and those who teeter around its edges.
First off, the obvious and the obligatory commentary. Beasts Clawing at Straws is a fast-paced, murderous journey following a Louis-Vuitton duffel bag filled with hard cash. There is no real protagonist as we follow and interwoven stories across multiple narratives and characters, from cops to crooks, hookers to hoodlums. The film is structured like a jigsaw that slowly fills in all of the missing pieces until we have one masterfully crafted piece of art. It is incredibly well made, well-acted, well-structed and gorgeously filmed. Shots had a purpose, close-ups had feeling, lighting changed moods, the score had power…it all just came together in a way that made it seem like it was dripping style points. It has that swagger—that panache that is oftentimes lacking in films too afraid to let loose.
The acting was great, with most giving outstanding performances. There are a few scenes that do come across as a little too comical, like when some of the characters are facing torture or death, but this goofy talk-too-fast clowning is pretty standard across all Korean cinema and is probably a cultural trope and nothing more. Other than that, there was very little to be critical of—it’s a near-perfect film.
If you are used to foreign language titles or are looking to give them a try, never has there been a better time. Let Beasts Clawing at Straws break you in. You’ll thank me later. Beasts Clawing at Straws is to be released on DVD/Blu-ray as well as on digital download as of December 15th. Thanks for reading and as always, stay sordid. Trailer and poster below.
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