Edited by Yang Young Jun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
WARNING: This article contains a minor spoiler.
Some people can do anything for money. “Don’t trust anyone when it comes to money.” Some people live by this motto, like those who choose to be “someone who shouldn’t be trusted,” or those who give up being human. The original novel of the same title by Keisuke Sone is about the hell existing in such a world.
At first, I had more worries than expectations. Of course, these concerns are not from the actors. From Jeon Do Yeon to Jung Woo Sung to Yoon Yeo Jung, the movie shows off its luxurious casts that any filmmakers would be envious of. It was director Kim Yong Hoon who concerned me, not because he is a newcomer but because I questioned if he would be able to lead the nine actors whose combined acting experiences is well over 200 years.
But after watching the movie, I realized that I was worried for nothing. With the director’s youthful sensibility and actors’ skillfulness, Beasts Clawing at Straws is a well-made crime thriller that is hard to find these days.
Beasts Clawing at Straws divide the movie into chapters to introduce characters like the novel. Each story of Jung Man (Bae Sung Woo) who finds the moneybag, Tae Young (Jung Woo Sung) who has to pay off debts left by Yeon Hee (Jeon Do Yeon), and Miran (Shin Hyun Bin), who wants to escape the life of domestic abuse and debt, gives the audience a sense of understanding in how desperately they need and want the money.
What’s interesting is that the story’s timeline is a mess. While it may look confusing with the seemingly complicated narratives, but in fact, the film has hinted at nonlinear narrative several times through the movements of the moneybag and TV news. The audience just doesn’t notice these hints right away as they are fascinated with the characters and their stories. The biggest reason as to why I felt fresh from such familiar topic of “a tragedy caused by money” lies in this unkind yet friendly narrative structure.
Puzzle pieces of the scattered story come together in Chapter 4, ‘Shark,’ with Jeon Do Yeon in the center. Yeon Hee doesn’t appear until an hour into the movie. Yes, it’s pretty unusual for a main character to appear that late, but Yeon Hee is the most crucial role in the film. She is the one who connects the past and the present, a villain who is always true to her desires and the starting point of all events. As soon as she appears, the movie’s level of immersion and speed gets doubled. It’s been a while since I found such an attractive villain in Korean films after Hong Sang Moo (Jung Yu Mi). Jeon Do Yeon only did “Jeon Do Yeon,” but her presence overwhelms the entire movie.
The performances of other actors are also excellent. Jung Woo Sung, who played the role moderately sly Tae Young, has yet met with another perfect villain character since Asura: The City of Madness. Bae Sung Woo perfected his role of Jung Man, who always look somewhat resentful, and Jung Man Sik, who played the role of Doo Man, a greedy private moneylender, once again showed his strength. Yoon Yeo Jung and Jin Kyung presented such a presence that it was a shame that they only got a few lines. Jung Ga Ram and Shin Hyun Bin also did not lag. In all, every member showed an impressive performance.
It is also interesting that major figures except for Jung Man’s family are described as “evil.” Despite their desperate stories, they are all villains who have committed or attempted to commit a crime. Those who are blinded by desires, trying to execute each other give the audience a sense of odd catharsis. There are some provocative scenes since the movie is rated R, but it’s easier to watch as the director controlled the movie with a certain balance.
But on the other hand, some characters doesn’t feel so “desperate.” Since the running time is short compared to the fact that the movie is divided into several chapters, some character buildings seem lacking. Maybe increasing the screen time by 10 minutes to better describe the stories of Jin Tae (Jeong Ga Ram), Young Sun (Jin Kyung), and Soon Ja (Yoon Yeo Jung) or enhance the emotions and motives of the characters in a more particular way might have shown a better outcome. Of Course, this is just a personal thought.
Beasts Clawing at Straws is an attractive crime thriller. It may not include fist-swinging actions, gunfights, bloody crime scenes, or naked bodies, but it has an eye-catching story and passionate performances by the actors. It may be too early to say this, but I’m already curious as to what Kim Yong Hoon will accomplish next.
Verdict: Try not to miss one second of this nerve-racking chase after a moneybag (8/10)
Editor Yang Young Jun: There is at least one good part in every movie or TV series. A media geek who isn’t picky with genres.