If we all acted with any form of ethics, morals, and integrity, we’d miss out on the entire thriller genre—as much as we want to be good, we like being bad. Kim Yong-Hoon’s Beasts Clawing at Straws would be nothing if its characters weren’t always looking for devilish shortcuts in life and ultimately facing the consequences of their actions.
Central to Yong-Hoon’s story is a Louis Vuitton bag loaded with cash and the eight individuals desperate to be its final possessor. The film opens with Jung-Man (Bae Seong-Woo), a gym attendant who discovers said bag of cash in an abandoned gym locker. The money would help pay for an in-home nurse for his ailing mother, a better house, and life. All Jung-Man has to do is sneak the bag out before his boss catches him.
The story then jumps back in time to the events leading to the bag being placed in the gym locker in the first place. The culprit was Tae-Young (Jung Woo-sung), a crooked customs inspector, who is in deep with gangster Du Man (Jung Man-sik). Tae-Young made the mistake of vouching for his girlfriend, Yeon-Hee (Do-Yeon jeon), a brothel owner, who ran out on her debt to Du Man and left that burden to Tae-Young. Now, he has only a day to come up with the money.
To get the money, Tae-Young plans to use his role as a customs inspector to con an unsuspecting “sucker.” Then there’s Mi Ran (Shin Hyun-bin), a prostitute working at Yeon-Hee’s brothel. She is the girlfriend of the “sucker,” who repeatedly beats her. To her rescue is a recent client from China who agrees to kill her boyfriend and make it look like an accident for the insurance. A plan so easy, it can’t possibly work. I should also add to the cast a corrupt cop who suspects Tae-Young of planning a crime. Oh, I should also (also) add that there’s also a serial killer on the loose. Whew, that’s a lot of characters scampering around like cockroaches.
“…a Louis Vuitton bag loaded with cash, and the eight individuals desperate to be its final possessor.”
Soon, greed takes over, and these strangers’ paths begin to intersect with very few positive results coming to those in possession of that Louis Vuitton bag. It’s complicated yet still manageable to follow. Beasts Clawing at Straws is a fantastic film for any thriller fan who likes twists, turns, double-crossings, violence, cons, dismemberment, and plain old bad luck.
The film’s biggest appeal is how the story is told in a straight and grounded way. I feel like if it were made here in the States, it would become this cool, slick, Ocean’s Eleven-type slapstick comedy. A story this complex and sometimes out-of-control needs to be grounded for us to take the plight of each character seriously. Also, I like the fact that none of the characters are angels. Some of them have good reasons to deserve the cash, but their darker nature always seems to take over.
Honestly, it’s hard to talk about the film without spoilers. Many of the paths are somewhat predictable, but there are enough important twists to catch you off guard. I’ll point to the relationship between brothel owner Yeon-Hee and her employee Mi Ran. It’s a good one. Something happens to them that seems to come out of nowhere, and then suddenly, it all makes sense. Even the title has its role as Beasts Clawing at Straws is the perfect picture to describe the film.
It’s not quite The Usual Suspects good, but Beasts Clawing at Straws is pretty damn close. It will keep you on the edge of your seat, always guessing until the all-important satisfying ending.
"…a story this complex and sometime out-of-control needs to be grounded..."