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December 01, 2020

Beasts Clawing at Straws

beasts clawing at straws.jpg

Jipuragirado Jabgo Sipeun Jibseungdeul
Kim Yong-hoon - 2020
Artsploitation Films

For me, the big mystery regarding Beasts Clawing at Straws was the absence of substantial information on writer-director Kim. An English language article from South Korea answers some of those questions. There is a certain amount of familiarity in the film that suggests influences beyond those that Kim admits to with the depiction of violence, the narrative structure, and the use of traveling shots. While I do not share the enthusiasm of some critics, it is safe to say this is a promising feature debut.

The first shot is of a designer travel bag, carried by an unknown person seen only from below the shoulders. The bag is shoved into a locker of a bath house. Checking locker prior to opening, an attendant finds the bag, and gives in to his curiosity. The bag is almost full of bank wrapped money. The film is divided into chapters, although within each chapter are what first appear to be three unrelated stories. It took me a while to get into the rhythm of what at first appear to be disconnected events. Nothing is as random as it appears. What follows is a pursuit of the bag, where avarice causes several people to make bad situations even worse.

Kim has the film take place in Pyeongtaek, a port city along the northwestern side of South Korea. Far from the glitz and glamour of Seoul, the location, as seen here, suggest a dead-end environment, a place of limited ambitions and opportunities. The locker attendant, who appears to bicycle a good distance to and from work, lives with his sister and incontinent grandmother in a run down house in a desolate area. Several of the characters who live in the city live in cramped apartments that echo the urban reality of being most likely over-priced while under-sized. Even the exteriors seem claustrophobic.

I have not been alone in finding comparisons also to films by Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. Kim does not indulge in any pop culture references. What he shares is making most of his characters even more fatally foolish in their respective choices, with his two most villainous characters done in by their grandiose delusions. The more easily squeamish may relax in knowing that Kim keeps the most grotesque moments offscreen, suggested by brief sprays of blood.

Of the cast, the best known would be Jeon Do-yeon as the manager of a bar where men pay to drink with attractive young women. Jeon starred in Secret Sunshine, part of the first wave of films from South Korea to get serious international attention. I would also advise viewers to stick around for the nicely animated end credits.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 1, 2020 06:52 AM