BEASTS CLAWING AT STRAWS (2020) reviews of grisly South Korean crime thriller

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[Total: 80   Average: 3.3/5]

Beasts Clawing at Straws is a 2020 South Koren crime thriller about a struggling restaurant owner who finds a bag of cash in a sauna locker. Meanwhile, a customs officer gets into trouble when his girlfriend runs off with the money he borrowed from a loan shark. Original title: Beasts That Cling to the Straw and released in France as Lucky Strike

Written and directed by Yong-Hoon Kim [as Kim Yong-Hoon], based on a Japanese novel by Keisuke Sone, the movie stars Do-yeon Jeon, Woo-sung Jung, Sung-Woo Bae and Man-sik Jeong.


A Louis Vuitton bag stuffed with cash sends a group of hard-luck lowlifes on a desperate chase for fortune. Fish-mongering gangsters, a greasy cop, an “innocent” gym cleaner, a scheming prostitute, her wife-beater of a husband, her ruthless boss and her clueless boyfriend all violently plot to get their hands on the elusive bag.

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“Writer-director Kim Yong-hoon is equally successful in the realization of the actors’ potentials, especially for those in the leading roles. The dynamics between Joong-man and his mother are simply brilliant thanks to Bae Seong-Woo and Yun Yuh-ying’s amazing acting, while Jeon Do-yeon’s Yeon-hee is one of the most memorable opportunistic movie psychopaths recently.” Asian Movie Pulse

” …we can enjoy the glossy gangster movie style, nice lighting and cinematography (there’s a swell fire, and lots of night-time neon panorama, doubtless enhanced by first-time director Kim Yon-hoon’s beginner’s enthusiasm. Most of all there are watchable actors, headed by Jung Woo-sung (The Good, the Bad, and the Weird) and Jeon Do-yeon […] At the end, I wanted more – but nowadays, that’s a good thing.” Chris Knipp

” …the director followed the code of film noir adding some ludicrous situations from time to time with a touch of humor. And that is why Kim Yong-hoon surrounded himself with a four-star cast. Kim Yong-hoon had not fallen into the trap of bloody scenes that ultimately bring nothing. This tense dark comedy hopefully will find its place in this crazy world that we live in.” Cinéphile

“It’s best not to know before seeing the movie how these disparate characters (and a bunch of others) are connected beyond just the money. But that reason is the cause of much of the drama in the final third of the film, and deliciously so. The violence does make for an increasingly cynical tone, yet Kim never loses sight of rendering his main characters and their various plights sympathetic…” Eastern Kicks

“There’s something about the film that reminded me of so many great films of the 90s. I already made comparisons to Tarantino and the Coen Brothers’ work, and that’s exactly what this feels like. But even filmmakers like that couldn’t have me as shocked and surprised as Kim Yong-hoon did with Beasts Clawing At Straws.” Flickering Myth

Beasts Clawing at Straws is as deliciously fun as the ironically dark title. It doesn’t manage to reinvent anything but for what it’s worth, these beasts are fun to be with. There’s also a Coen-esque reverence here that makes for a maddening ride.” High on Films

” …Beasts Clawing at Straws takes a while to establish its tone — unsurprisingly, given director Kim’s inexperience. There are some broad strokes applied in terms of score, acting and camerawork as the various plot strands unfold in a deliberately confusing manner […] Beasts Clawing at Straws demands attention and patience, but happily ends up amply rewarding both.” The Hollywood Reporter

” …this is the feature directorial debut of Kim Yong-hoon; the former film studio employee like so many other filmmakers around the world has been inspired by Pulp Fiction which can be said has created its own subgenre.  Fortunately, Kim has not strictly gone for a homage but has put his own distinct stamp on bringing the nonlinear storylines together and raising the body count along the way.” Life for Films

“The structure of Beasts Clawing at Straws resembles almost a classic comedy design with its formal convention transposed into a crime caper. The longer the film runs, the more it emerges as a basically a comedy of (grisly) errors fueled by greed, and as the tradition goes, in one case by naïveté. The case naturally being the loser type, which develops into a fool archetype though not that much ambivalent as to become the decisive force in the story.” Screen Anarchy

“A glockenspiel-heavy score emphasises the quirkier elements of the story and this, together with some of the broad supporting performances, can be a little off-putting. But in fact, this almost Coen-sian tale of ordinary folks undone by greed is a lot smarter than its occasionally crude execution would have you believe.” Screen Daily

“The opening sequence when Kim Tae-sung’s fluid camera follows the Louis Vuitton bag features a 1970s caper tongue-in-cheekiness that’s largely replaced by a standard modern thriller look full of darkened streets and moody interiors. While attractive, the widescreen visuals lack a sense of individuality. Luckily the actors have enough verve to carry it through to the enjoyably open-ended finale.” Variety


The film premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival. In the USA, Artsploitation Films will release Beasts Clawing at Straws theatrically on October 21st, then on VOD on December 15th 2020.

Virtual screenings in select cinemas nationwide. Initial line-up is:

Filmbar                    Phoenix, AZ

Cinema SF                San Francisco, CA
Cleveland Cinematheque    Cleveland, OH
Lumiere                    Los Angeles, CA
North Park                Buffalo, NY
Hollywood                Portland, OR
Gateway                    Columbus, OH
Cameo                    Fayetteville, NC
Corazon Cinema            St. Augustine, FL
Cinema 21                Portland, OR
Frida                    Santa Ana, CA 

Opens Friday, October 23:

Laemmle                    Los Angeles, CA
Arena Theater                   Point Arena, CA
NYAFF                              New York, NY

Cast and characters:

Do-yeon Jeon … Yeon-Hee
Woo-sung Jung … Tae-Young
Sung-Woo Bae … Jung-Man
Man-sik Jeong
Kyung Jin … Young-Seon
Shin Hyon Bin … Mi Ran
Ga-ram Jung … Jin-Tae
Jun-han Kim … Jae-Hun
Yuh-Jung Youn … Soon-Ja (as Yuh Jung Youn)

Technical details:

108 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.39: 1


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