South Korean crime thriller BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS intricately weaves together the stories of eight strangers struggling with finances, success, and love. Based on a Japanese novel by Keisuke Sone of the same name, BEASTS is an ambitious tale centering around no more or less than a mysterious bag of money. The film is bookended by nearly identical shots of the bag of money being hurriedly carried through a seemingly innocuous circumstance.
In fact, much of the simple genius of BEASTS is a slow, deliberate pacing that seems to go over the heads of many American audiences. Brilliant ensemble cast members – particularly standout stunner, scene stealer, and scenery-chewer Do-yeon Jeon as Yeon-Hee, and Woo-Sung Jung as Tae Young, a straightlaced outsider to the story for as long as he can possibly muster, blend seamlessly into a symphony of unique stories and character notes. Brilliantly fleshed out to imperfect perfection, the flawed characters at the soul of this story contain multitudes, as does the story itself. BEASTS has a pretty straightforward moral at its core- if the title doesn’t already clue you in. Money is what drives the twisted actions of our characters. While not all of their actions are driven purely by greed, as time wears on and the stakes get higher, their motives become more simplified – and more selfish. Each of them clawing at their chance for escape, their chance for freedom, their chance for something better. BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS will make you reflect on your own priorities, problems, and at the core- your own greed. In a unique twist, BEASTS is split into chapters (I would assume, like the book itself). Debt, Sucker, Food Chain, Shark, Lucky Strike, and Money Bag are the titles of each chapter that breaks the story up. While the story is continuous, I felt that each chapter did have a distinct dynamic and “vibe”, if you will. The overarching theme and plotline remained, but the attitude and aesthetic varied in small amounts. There’s a Quentin Tarantino-esque grit to BEASTS – definitely not for the squeamish or faint of heart. It’s sexy, surreal, and has an artistic flair that is unmistakably South Korean. Writer and Director Kim-Yong Hoon has very little of note in his resume, and this is his first feature, but I guarantee that he has a style that will leave an indelible mark on filmmaking. While BEASTS has style and talent in spades, the overall incredibly slow pacing and simplified story (in spite of itself – how can something with 8 converging stories be simple?) leave something to be desired. As always, I take this comment, even from myself, with a grain of salt — too often bad subtitling for foreign films combined with lack of cultural knowledge can cause us to miss some of the subtlety, and some of the depth. While BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS may have its slow moments, and a colloquial Korean quality that might not hit home for every viewer, the intensity of this crime thriller, and it’s bubbling tension, is universal.
Makeup Artist, Monster Maker, Educator, Producer, Haunt-lover, and all around Halloween freak. When Miranda isn't watching horror films, she's making them happen. When she's not doing either of those things, she's probably dreaming about them. Or baking cookies.