Friday, December 11, 2020

"Parasite"-lite from South Korea: Kim Yong-Hoon's BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS

Most of the characters in the new South Korean movie BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS are not just greedy-as-hell but dumb-as-they-come. The couple of lone smart ones are also nasty and vicious enough that you won't at all mind their appropriate comeuppance, while the also lone pair of decent folk, by virtue of that rare decency (this is South Korea, after all), rise above mere descriptions such as dumb or smart.

To call this film "Parasite"-lite, as does my headline, is not meant as a negative. (Few filmmakers reach the Bong Joon-Ho level.) Its director and adaptor (from Japanese writer Keisuke Sone's novel), Kim Yong-Hoon (below), offers us an ensemble thriller about the effects of 

greed on a populace made up of mostly have-nots who've been preyed upon by the sort of low-end haves who are nowhere near the corporate or political level. They're simply better than the have-nots at being evil. 

As usual with South Korean films these days, the ensemble roles are uniformly well-planned and -played. with each actor nailing his/her key characteristic, while remaining believable and human (if not humane).

TrustMovies is proving to be increasingly poor at recalling character names and then matching them to actors' faces (particularly in ensemble-cast Asian movies), so forgiveness is asked for the actors in the photos below not being properly identified. 

Mr. Bong begins his film with the sight (see poster image at top) of what looks like something awfully close to that famous designer travel bag (surely the ugliest symbol of the "elite" ever created; little wonder it was immediately snapped up and knocked off by the equally taste-free lower classes), which one character (above, center) stores in a locker at the local bathhouse/sauna. 

When a bathhouse worker (above) later discovers the bag, along with its contents (which you can easily imagine), and then steals it (slowly, in degrees, which adds to the irony, suspense and humor of the film), we are quickly introduced to a bevy of characters, one more greedy, needy and nasty than the next.  

Soon we've met a brothel madam (above), along with one of her sex workers (below, right) and one of her clients (below, left),

plus a small-time criminal kingpin and his love-to-murder underling (shown on either side of the original depositor of that bagful of loot, four photos above), the worked-to-death wife (below) and increasingly demented mother (two photos below) of the bathhouse worker who steals the bag, along with other sundry and assorted lesser "lights."

Who these people are and how they're connected to each and that mystery bag are eventually revealed as this sometimes obvious, other times surprising, and often grisly, dark and funny film unfurls. Beasts Clawing at Straws will recall countless other movies, better and worse, yet it manages to hold its own (and your interest) amid all the sometimes derivative twists and turns.

Coincidence and convenience abound, as they often do in tales of this genre. Yet time and again we come back for more. Do we love so love to see ourselves, along with the worst aspects of us, up there on the big screen (or, these days, big TV)? Maybe so, and if so, this one's for you, dear reader.

From Artsploitation Films, in Korean with English subtitles and running 108 minutes, Beasts Clawing at Straws hits streaming venues this coming Tuesday, December 15 -- for purchase or rental. Click here for more information.

No comments: