A Louis Vuitton bag full of money causes an outrageous chain of events in Korean filmmaker Kim Yong-Hoon’s much-admired Beasts Clawing at Straws. The bag's discovery leads to a succession of lowlifes, double-crossers, criminals and dealers who come undone through greed as they try to outsmart each other for the money. A jury award winner at Rotterdam International Film Festival, this acerbic crime thriller is a wickedly entertaining debut.

  • Year: 2019
  • Runtime: 108 minutes
  • Language: Korean
  • Country: South Korea
  • Director: Yong-hoon Kim
  • Cast: Do-yeon Jeon, Ga-ram Jung, Hyun-been Shin, Man-sik Jeong, Seong-woo Bae, Woo-sung Jung

Review by Alannah Brent

This colourful South Korean crime thriller tells the interconnecting stories of Joong-man; a porter stuck in an unrewarding job, Tae-young; a customs officer in debt to a loan-shark, Mi-ran; an escort with an abusive husband, and a Louis Vuitton bag heavy with cash, which serves as the catalyst for our story. When the bag is found in the sauna where Joong-man works, the lives of these three ordinary people begin to intertwine. Clearly influenced by the Coen Brothers, Tarantino, and filled with Hitchcockian paranoia, the story is split into six chapters, which jump from each of the main characters, and back in time to the days and weeks prior, as we learn the origin of the money and the criminals that want to get their hands on it. A film not to be missed.



Review by Lauren Cullen

Beasts Clawing At Straws throws some serious punches. This directorial debut from Kim Yong-Hoon is an experience dripping with energy and passion at every twist and turn. Beasts is a spider web of a story that begins with a harmless hotel worker discovering a mysterious bag full of money in one of the lockers, and branches out into a tangle of criminals, schemes, deceit and murder You can’t help but feel like a detective unravelling a mystery as you peek into snapshots of each character's life and wonder where they’re going to take you. Yong-Hoon masterfully knows when to hold back as this series of related but non-linear storylines play out and come together at the absolute perfect time. Sharp, economic scenes keep the audience on their toes, and the uniqueness of each character beams through the screen with every line or piecing glare. The expert work of editor, Han Mi-yeon shines as there is not one beat missed in this engine of a story.

This film is addictive and is reminiscent of the many classic Hollywood flicks we all know and love, yet, Beasts Clawing At Straws brings this to new heights by firmly keeping its roots in South Korean culture as well as taking structural risks and being bombastic with its rebellious and strong tone.

Beasts Clawing At Straws is sure to be an audience favourite as there is something that everyone will enjoy in this piece. It is exciting yet clever and can be enjoyed on many levels, a pure entertaining film in which there is so much more to find if you like scratching below the surface but is also the perfect film to transport your mind from the living room into a whole other world.



Review by Emma Rose Corrigan

South-Korean director, Kim Yong-hoon, directs his debut film, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” with the passion of a newcomer, timing of a comedian and remarkable skill set that any film enthusiast will admire. The South Korean crime-thriller, based on the novel by Keisuke Sone, dives head first into a world where money is power but not necessarily happiness, as one might assume. The title itself is the perfect analogy to depict how greed transforms innocent into homicidal.

The opening sequence of the film immediately introduces us to the engine that powers it – a Louis Vuitton bag filled with a large sum of money that everyone has their eye on. When cleaner, Jung-Man (Bae Seong-woo) finds the stash of money abandoned in a locker at the sauna where he works, his life is flipped upside down. His constant concerns regarding a lack of money to pay off loans and keeping business up in his father’s shop all lead to a hunger to keep the money for himself. Unfortunately, Jung-Man has unknowingly stepped into a ring of scammers and cold-blooded serial killers who will do everything in their power to claim the pot of gold for themselves. In other words, it’s the perfect remedy for disaster!

“Beasts Clawing at Straws” is structured into chapters that lead us cautiously to the grand finale. As the suspense rises it feels like watching a game show only the stakes are higher, the questions are trickier and the incentives are heftier! Kim Yong-hoon toys with chronological order to further play with the viewers mind and build up the ever-growing suspense. The hour and 48-minute-long money chase jolts from “Debt”, “Sucker”, “Food Chain”, “Shark”, “Lucky Strike” and “Money Bag”. As each chapter emerges, characters with seemingly trustworthy smiles lure each other in and add to the confusion as they interweave and motivations become stifled.

Jung-Man’s status as a lower-class man sparks the topic of economic inequality in a society similar to its older brother, “Parasite” (2019). Unlike its predecessor, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” focuses on the path that takes the poverty-stricken from desperation to complete savagery and emphasises how the antagonistic nature of greed correlates with a citizen’s position in society. Drowning in difficulties such as debt and bills that have stemmed from their status in a corrupt populace, characters like Jung-Man or Mi-Ran (Shin Hyun-bin) who has spent much of her life at the hands of her abusive husband, risk their own lives and the lives of others for the comfort of money, which is a statement in itself. Jung-Man’s hamartia is that he sees the bag of money as his second chance at life and although his intentions may be pure, he lacks vision of the bigger picture which has been fogged up by delusions of a wealthier life.

In the midst of the on-going drama, it is immensely difficult to steer the attention away from the dazzling rainbow of lights that symbolically take over each scene. The busy colour palettes seem to be as dysfunctional and chaotic as the overall concept but the film certainly wouldn’t be the same without them. The atmosphere that both Kim Yong-hoon and production designer, Han A-reum concoct with the careful choice of flashy lights, is truly mesmerising and assists the high action sequences and upbeat score. A scene in Tae-Young’s (Jung Woo-sung) apartment fills up with a pulsing red light that reverberates around the room to mimic his anger and distress up to this point in the film. The attention to minor details that indicate his loss of control as he yearns for his absent wife, emanate from every corner of the room.

Kim Yong-hoon’s command of the medium never strays and his ability to control and heighten the suspense with ease allows for an entertaining experience even on a second and third viewing – which is perfect mid-pandemic when binge watching movies is all there is to do. While it is subtle but sweet in its humour, quick to fool the mind and heavy on the blood (not for the faint-hearted), it never meanders too far from the simple picture – the bag brimming with money. Despite who the lucky but cursed soul is in the end, “Beasts Clawing at Straws” is all but a straightforward reminder not to let our financial securities or insecurities consume our lives. Some may find this uplifting message difficult to consent to but they are the unlucky few who have yet to watch this film!



Review by Conor Ryan

Beasts Clawing at Straws is a criminal tour de force, a twisted tale where ordinary people are forced to make tough choices and decide whether they are the predator or the prey in a vicious game of cat and mouse...

This parable of desperation begins when a hapless hotel worker discovers a puzzling item abandoned in a dingy locker room - a briefcase filled with money. The man recognises the opportunity that lays before him and plans to take the cash in order to pay for his daughter’s university fees. What follows is a chaotic caper and a murderous free-for-all as our morally confused everyman becomes tangled up in a labyrinthian web of mobsters and conmen. 

Kim Yong-hoon, in his directorial debut, expertly plays with the crime genre’s familiar tropes, subverting the material in a manner reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard, the Coen brothers or Quentin Tarantino. As in Pulp Fiction, the story plays out in a nonlinear fashion and our protagonists are driven by a frantic hunt for a mysterious and valuable macguffin. The story draws carefully from classic film noir, with a murder plot that plays out similarly to the one featured in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. However, the familiar gangster imagery has been ripped clean from its roots in the United States and discreetly transplanted to South Korea. The filmmakers’ colloquial approach to neo-noir quickly transcends the trappings of simple categorization and becomes universal. The feature reinvigorates the quintessentially American iconography of the pulp magazine tale, with a more modern and refreshing take on the fatalistic illegalities that emerged in Hollywood cinema under the shadow of the Second World War.

Right from the beginning it is clear to us that no one can be trusted and that we are dealing with life and death stakes. The story’s non-chronological structure is very effective, teasing us and drip feeding us exposition, neatly introducing us to the characters and their respective problems before gracefully pulling back the curtain on the film’s surprising timeline. Worth noting is Meeyeon Han’s perfectly timed editing which expertly weaves together each narrative strand, cleverly setting up conflict and resolving it with the deft hand of a master craftswoman. Han’s most notable previous work was as the on-set editor of several Bong Joon-Ho movies, including Parasite, and it is fair to say that the acclaimed director’s precise sensibilities are evident in her work here.

The film’s dangerous underworld setting is brought to life through the polished cinematography and the subtle production design, a grimy hue perversely punching holes in the colorful scenes which play out across the screen. Kim Tae-sung, the Director of Photography, takes an economic approach to visual storytelling while wielding a swaggering command of both style and substance that is reminiscent of Jeff Cronenweth’s work with David Fincher. Each successive scene shimmers and glows, the harder edges of the frame betraying a nervous antipathy that lies just beneath the surface. The overall effect is an impressive mise-en-scène that establishes an energetic tone and a believable world.

The ensemble cast is filled to the brim with pleasingly understated performances. The discerning actors cultivate a wide range of larger than life archetypal roles while taking care to avoid any of the exaggerated characteristics that would threaten to render their parts clichéd in almost any other feature. Instead, the nimble thespians adorn themselves with engaging flourishes, highlighting the more eccentric personality traits of their cinematic counterparts. Jeon Do-yeon leads the pack, reinventing the femme fatale for a new age of tantalising mischief. Elsewhere, Yoon Je Moon shines in a supporting role as a bumbling detective, juggling ineptitude and intuition across an expressive face bubbling with perverse sincerity.

Remarkably, the film follows through on the promises of its high stakes story, with a nail-biting suspense maintained throughout. The director progressively builds a precarious tension that underlines the whole narrative, satisfyingly releasing it only when we least expect it. Ultimately, the seedy melodrama outpaces its contemporaries with a slick but unobtrusive application of on-screen violence, consistently evoking the dark celluloid passions of a primal filmmaker like Sam Peckinpah.

Beasts Clawing At Straws is an inventive and resourceful entry in an increasingly mundane genre, offering a rare collection of thrills and chills and wisely avoiding the stereotypical gumshoe tripe of less articulate movies. A pervasive atmosphere of guilt washes over every smirking second, pulling no punches and dispatching morbid humor with a unique vitality. This is a devastatingly good film, delivered by a talented cast and crew firing on all cylinders.