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  Beasts Clawing at Straws Show Them The Money
Year: 2020
Director: Kim Yong-hoon
Stars: Jeon Do-yeon, Jung Woo-sung, Bae Sung-woo, Youn Yuh-Jung, Shin Hyuin Been, Jeong Man-sik, Kyung Jin, Jung Ga-ram, Kim Jun-han, Bae Jin-woong, Heo Don-won, Jang Eui-Don, Jung Yeon-hwa, Kim Dae-han, Kwon Hyuk-Bum, Park Ji-hwan, Yun-Je-mun
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Joong-man (Bae Sung-woo) is a cleaner in a sauna in a coastal South Korean town, and struggling to make ends meet thanks to not earning enough and a mother (Youn Yuh-Jung) drifting into dementia that his wife cannot cope with. His boss is a problem, too, always on his back about some perceived fault, when the fact remains he is three minutes late some mornings because he has been trying to manage his parent. But what if there was something at the sauna, something in the lockers, that could alleviate his issues? How about a sports bag stuffed with cash that does not seem to have any obvious owner - could Joong-man conceivably help himself to this, paying for his mother's care, his child's college fees, and finally be content?

The lure of money was the appeal here, in director Kim Yong-hoon's directorial debut, adapting a popular Japanese novel by Keisuke Sone for the screen with some skill, though a lot of credit deserved to go to his editor, Han Meeyeon (who had worked on Bong Joon-ho movies, including Parasite), who corralled all the various threads of plot which could have been a confusing bowl of noodles, but actually was satisfyingly easy to follow. We did slip back and forward through time, follow a collection of characters where it is not always clear the connections between them until the last act of the near-two hour story, and by all rights should have been well and truly discombobulated within about a quarter of an hour; some credit should also go to the acting to keep us on track.

Among those other characters were the standout, Jeon Do-yeon, as a gangster who seems to be doing one of her escorts a favour. Jeon played Yeon-hee with seemingly reasonable mien, until out come the power tools and all bets are off, but before that happens the escort is having an even worse time of it than Joong-man; she was played by Shin Hyuin Been with a vulnerability that showed through even when she was taking matters into her own hands, and given she is regularly beaten by her abusive husband, we do want to see her prevail. Yet there was an unforgiving air to the piece that offered no guarantee that anybody we watched was going to escape unscathed, least of all the customs agent (Jung Woo-sung) who needs a lot of money fast as well, as he is buckling under the weight if his gambling debts (a typical theme in South Korean thrillers).

Some compared this to the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, though it lacked a central, maniacal avenging angel focus for the mayhem as the plot split that along various lines. Actually, it resembled Danny Boyle's stellar feature debut Shallow Grave, not merely because there was a bag of money involved, but because of the desire, nay, the desperation for money leads the characters to contemplate actions that they would never carry out if they were financially secure. Some of them don't take much contemplating, acting on impulse. Ultimately, the film asks, is any of this extreme behaviour worth it, in light of how everyone ends up? True, you are more or less anticipating a bloodbath, and you are not exactly disappointed, but it's who survives and why that takes our interest, for there is no real rhyme or reason to that, indeed it could be sheer luck. The point being, anything to do with money is a form of gambling, and you should be aware of that should you wonder about how to get more. Not the cheeriest of conclusions, but very well arranged, nonetheless. Music by Nene Kang.

Aka: Jipuragirado jabgo sipeun jibseungdeul

[Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Beasts Clawing At Straws on Curzon Home Cinema 6 August and on Digital Download 23 August 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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