Director – Kim Yong-hoon – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 108m
A number of individuals in dire financial straits do whatever they can to get hold of a bag of money – on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, August 6th and Digital from Monday, August 23rd
Seemingly disparate plot strands suggest a group of separate stories about to be narrated in parallel, but in fact they’re all part of the same story and eventually converge in this compelling thriller involving an ensemble of characters and a bag of money. A number of the characters are in dire and indeed impossible financial circumstances with no obvious way out. The bag of money, when it turns up in each of their lives, represents a possible escape route for each of them.
Lowly bathhouse attendant Jung-man (Bae Seong-woo) finds the abandoned carryall stuffed full with wads of banknotes in a locker on the premises. Of course, the right thing to do would be to hand it in to his boss, but his boss is a nasty piece of work who fires any employee who’s late twice. Besides, Jung-man’s incontinent mother (Youn Yuh-jung) who lives in his home has dementia, refuses to wear incontinence pads and makes life hell for his wife who works a menial cleaner’s job at the airport.
Other characters are in debt to ruthless loan shark Mr. Park (Jung Man-sik) whose right-hand man delights in eating entrails, animal or human. One of his debtors, Mi-ran (Shin Hyun-bin), is regularly and violently beaten by her husband who uses her debt to justify the abuse. Working in a hostess club, she falls for illegal Chinese immigrant Jin-tae (Jung Ga-ram) who offers to kill her husband. Another debtor, port authority immigration officer Tae-young (Jung Woo-sung), is searching for his vanished girlfriend Yeon-hee (Jeon Do-yeon) who now runs the hostess club where Mi-ran works.
The narratives of these different characters constantly criss cross as each of them, both major and minor, gets in deeper and deeper over his or her head. Whenever one person offers to help another, something seems to go wrong either through incompetence, unexpected circumstance or simply because the person offering to help is motivated by naked self-interest. It’s one of those films that constantly outwits the audience. As the story progresses and characters start killing one another, it becomes harder and harder to work out who if anyone is going to survive to the end and whether the bag of money will simply end up in a locker somewhere with the key lost in the confusion.
Either way, the whole thing is beautifully orchestrated with top notch talent both behind and in front of the camera at all levels. It’s also a grim picture of a society in which many, many ordinary people are struggling to survive financially. For all that, though, it proves hugely entertaining. There’s never a dull moment and you’ll be on the edge of your seat throughout. A true audience pleaser.
Beasts Clawing At Straws is on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, August 6th and Digital from Monday, August 23rd.
London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) 10/12 opening night film