The presence of 2021 Oscar-winner Yuh-Jung Youn, now forever to be knows as the ‘granny from Minari’, is the obvious selling point for Kim Yong-hoon’s assured debut feature. But there’s a lot more going on here, and the long-time Brad Pitt fan only features in a few scenes, although her character is certainly memorable and essential to the plot. So we come for Youn, but we leave impressed by the twisty-turny story; despite an awkward title (shouldn’t it be ‘clutching at straws’?) this is an accomplished crime movie that engages throughout.
The reference point has to be Tarantino; while many others have played with B movie plotting, and the fun of intertwining stories, Tarantino pretty much created his own genre, and Beasts Clawing at Straws fits right in. Bae Seong-woo plays Joong-man, the son of an aging mum (Yuh-Jung Youn), who happens on a bag in a locker in the sauna where he works. The bag, as often in these types of films, is crammed full of money. We’ll come back to this moment later, but not before meeting a number of other nefarious characters, including Shin Hyun-bin as Mi-ran, a wife who engages a young man to kill her abusive husband, only for him to accidentally kill the wrong man. Meanwhile Jung Woo-sung plays Tae-young, a customs officer over-his-head with a local criminal and his gang….
As with Tarantino, the games with time, space and character are the point here; there’s a number of ‘aha’ moments when we seem to circle back in time to understand various double-crosses and deals. Based on a novel by Keisuke Sone, this South Korean film certainly looks sleek and slick, with lots of neon signs and diffused light, but energetic performances to illuminate the dark subject matter.
Kim Yong-hoon’s thriller has a few clichés to rework, but shows admirable restraint when it comes to violence, which largely, but not entirely happens off-screen. As a debut, it’s auspicious, managing to make something fresh out of a potentially derivative storyline. And the granny from Minari? What seems like a small part becomes far more prominent in the final scenes, where her character kicks ass and takes names. Perhaps her presence is the reason for Beasts Clawing at Straws getting a prominent release via Curzon streaming services, but the energetic portrayal of this nest of vipers makes this a minor gem for genre fans.
Thanks to Witchfinder PR and Curzon for advance access to this title.
Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Beasts Clawing At Straws on Curzon Home Cinema 6 August and on Digital Download 23 August