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BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS screens as part of this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival November 5th – 22nd.Ticket information for the virtual screening can be found HERE

A wild, fast-paced crime thriller that deftly crosses the Coen Bros. with “The Grifters,” “Beasts Clawing at Straws” is a pitch-black neo-noir. When a cash-stuffed Louis Vuitton bag is left in a sauna, it sends a group of hard-luck lowlifes on a desperate chase for a fortune. Fish-mongering gangsters, a greasy cop, an “innocent” gym cleaner, and a prostitute and her trio of men (wife-beating husband, ruthless boss, and clueless boyfriend) all violently scheme to get their hands on the elusive bag. Starring Jung Woo-sung (“Asura: City of Madness”) and Jeon Do-yeon (award winner in Cannes for her lead role in “Secret Sunshine”), first-time director Kim Yong-hoon’s film is a beautifully constructed puzzle whose pieces snap perfectly into place with each double-cross. Screen Daily writes: “Stridently over the top in everything from the colour scheme to the performances to the violence, the film at first appears to be a fairly routine underworld black comedy. It’s not until the final act that first-time feature director Kim Yonghoon’s assured handling of the convoluted structure fully reveals itself. Following its win at Rotterdam, where it took the Jury prize in the Tiger Competition, ‘Beasts’’ pulpy appeal and dark humour should ensure that it will be well received at further festivals.”


We seem to hear the phrase “hot spot” quite a lot lately, usually in
referring to the global pandemic. But in the world of cinema, those
words have a much different meaning, calling attention to the current
critical and often box office success of a particular region )country,
continent, etc.). In the early 1980s the “movie hot spot” was
Australia which suddenly exploded with fresh new film “voices”. More
recently India and Mexico have “made their mark”. Last year, however,
was the year of South Korea with the unique “label-defying” (drama,
comedy, thriller, parody, horror) PARASITE sweeping the Oscars (four
major honors) and breaking through the “niche’ markets” to play in
many multiplexes. For those who have developed a taste for this type
of “film food” here’s a new Korean “movie meal” that covers many of
that earlier work’s themes while blending the seasonings and spice of
the Coen brothers, Tarantino, and a dash of Christopher Nolan. Let’s
devour the delights of BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS.

After a chapter “title card” we’re introduced to a hard-working man in
his early thirties who’s struggling to keep the family business, a
modest general store with his home in the above floors, afloat.
Customers are so sparse that his wife juggles cleaning jobs while she
attempts to care for her senile and increasingly violent
mother-in-law. Meantime, her hubby pedals countless miles to his early
shift job as the custodian/clerk of a gym/sauna at a swanky Seoul
high-rise hotel, all under the watchful eye of his bullying boss.
Things change one dreary morning as he discovers a fancy Louis Vuitton
bag left in one of the open lockers. Zipping it open, he’s shocked to
find that it’s stuffed with cash, maybe several hundred thousand US
bucks. But the boss spots him, so he quickly closes it up and tells
him that he’ll place it with the lost and found items in the back
room. Instead, he stashes it out of sight, hoping it will be hidden
until he can sneak it out. Cut to another title card as we encounter a
customs officer who enlists the aid of an old school pal in a scheme
to pay off an affable but remorseless loan shark who is losing his
patience and is eager to put his hulking mute sadistic goon (he adores
fresh liver…from any source) to work. If only the customs guy’s
girlfriend hadn’t vanished. Or has she? Then we cut to a new chapter
as we meet a twenty-something “hostess” at a “gentleman’s club” who
comes home at night to a cruel abusing spouse. Could her young smitten
“client” be persuaded to rescue her from her soured marriage? What
could these characters have in common with each other, besides the
pursuit of filthy lucre?

Ah, but that’s the fun of this zany crime caper. Watching each segment
unfold we wonder just how these “worlds” will collide. Or perhaps they
won’t. It appears that lots of Hollywood’s Golden age film noirs made
it to the Far East and inspired director Kim Yong-Hoon as he adapted
Japanese writer Keisuke Sone’s novel. He’s loaded the film with
terrific twists and turns to keep viewers riveted and more than a tad
puzzled, shifting our rooting interests suddenly while indulging in
the “blackest’ of comedic set pieces. There’s even a dim-witted stooge
named “Carp” who seems to always be in the wrong place at the wrong
time. And there’s just the right amount of gore and sex (what’s a
caper with a femme fatale or two) as the principals scramble to
deceive and deter with double and triple crosses galore. All the
scheming pays off, as does the time-mixing from the talented
filmmaker. You’ll be riveted as you observe these wild characters that
can truly be called BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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