Beasts Clawing At Straws: The BRWC Review. By Alif Majeed.
It all started with a bag. And an expensive Louis Vuitton bag at that. Pulp Fiction may not be the first movie that did the whole people chasing a suitcase routine or dividing the film into chapters, but it opened the pandora’s box and providing filmmakers with the template that many still use. After Pulp Fiction came out, several imitators came up with the same formula but have never emulated it, becoming instantly forgettable.
Beasts Clawing at Straws might seem like an imitator at first, especially when we see the bag of cash but soon develops into something wholly with its own personality. The director, Kim Yong-hoon, took everything that the imitators did wrong and course correct and refined the formula.
Though the connection with the Tarantino movies is apparent, it is Fargo with its dark humor, multiple characters having different motivations but all of them after the same thing that comes out as it’s forbearer. It might seem easy to go full Tarantino by making the violence over the top and cartoonish, but the Coen brothers are a trickier proposition. It is tough to create a balance of dark humor and action that they do so well. Even the great Zhang Yimou found it problematic when he transported in Blood Simple into China with A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop. Noah Crawley handled it well enough in the Fargo series. Beasts Clawing at Straws could well be a truncated version of a season of that show.
You keep trying to figure out how things are related to each other and in what order and any discussion of the plot will dilute the film’s enjoyment even though the narration itself can make quite an impression. Still, when the multiple storylines finally resolve itself while crisscrossing across all the timelines and people, full credit goes to the director as he keeps it even across the board.
A big part of its success also goes to the protagonists that populate the story, and the cast is uniformly good. With their different motivations and a desperate blind grab at straws, despite some not being aware of the bag and how it can change their future. It includes a struggling hotel worker (Bae Seong-woo), who finds the bag full of cash in one of the hotel bathroom lockers, along with an office worker whose girlfriend ran away with the money he borrowed from a gangster. There is also a woman working as a part-time escort who is in a terrifyingly abusive relationship. One of her suitors cum customers with a misguided sense of chivalry. At the center of it all is the mysterious femme fatale Tae-young, who has a connection with all of them.
When taken as a part of a whole, all the actors fit together perfectly and sync with each other. Particular praise should go to Jung Woo-sung as the lovesick office worker who is in over his head with a gang of deadly gangsters, including an assassin who has a particular soft spot for raw meat, both human and otherwise. Also in brilliant form is Jeon Do-Yeon, the femme fatale who, in a classic noir-ish fashion, lands up at Yeon’s doorstep out of nowhere asking for a favor, as how many noir movies go.
Even after all that she did to him, leaving him in an uncomfortable spot, he still doesn’t stand a chance with that woman. Her character stands out both in terms of characterization and Jeon’s game performance.
Comparing it to Parasite, not just last year’s best Korean movie, but also one of the best movies to come from there is quite a stretch. You can also spot the places where it follows the rulebook and almost becoming a parody of the films that came before it. But as a whole, it is a joy ride that you will be glad you took.
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