WTF ASIA 211: Beasts Clawing at Straws (2020)

This WTF ASIA entry is brought to you by Lucky Strike Cigarettes. Lucky Strike: when you need to hook a sucker to pay off your debts to loan shark.

Beasts Clawing at Straws - Rotten Tomatoes

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 109 minutes.

We start out with a somewhat fancy-looking bag. Someone walks with it through a fancy-looking place and stuffs the bag in a locker.

Chapter 1: Debt

It turns out that that fancy place is a hotel, and Joong-man is an employee there. Or, at least an employee of the hotel’s sauna. He is cleaning up various parts of the building and making sure that things are ship shape. Meanwhile, the TV news report goes talks about human body parts discovered by a lake, a man who got run over by a garbage truck, and a man who was arrested for stealing a million in investor money. I am sure that these things will become important later on.

Joong-man goes through the lockers and finds the bag. He is surprised that it is so heavy. So, he opens it and finds that it is full of cash. Gears start turning in his brain, but the sound of an approaching coworker pulls him out. He tells the guy that someone came before dawn, left without the bag, and has not come back for it. So, Joong-man is putting it storage. The other guy does not seem to be particularly interested.

Joong-man goes to storage and…not-so-briefly considers taking a stack of the cash. But he puts it back in the bag and puts the bag on the storage shelf. A good man, this guy. Although, he does kind of hide the bag behind another bag.

Joong-man goes home by bicycle. It looks to be attached to a somewhat rundown shop in the middle of nowhere. He finds his wife, Young-sun, wiping down the floor of the shop. He knows what happened, and goes to confront his mother, Soon-ja. He reminds his mother that he had told her to wear a diaper, but she retorts that she is not a toddler. He then says that she should use the toilet so that Young-sun does not need to do all that over and over again. Soon-ja says that Young-sun does not work at the shop at all, just fools around at home. It was Joong-man’s father who worked hard to get the shop and Young-sun is driving away the customers with her lazy work.

As Young-sun gets prepared for work, she tells Joong-man that his mother tried to go to the store. And she accused Young-sun of trying to kill her for stopping her. Also, their daughter Yoon-hee did not get the student loan, so she will take the semester off to work.

We see Young-sun mopping down the men’s bathroom at what I guess is a shipyard. Whatever the place is, this is more a reason to introduce us to another character, Tae-young, a port officer who stamps people’s passports.

Some guy named Park texts Tae-young to go to the shop after work. So, he does. It looks rather shady. The guys loitering out front let him through, with one of them calling him a dumbass for meeting the wrong woman. He passes by two guys carrying what is probably a human corpse. And then Park calls to him. Park is all smiles and friendliness, and Tae-young tries to disguise his obvious nervousness.

Tae-young sheepishly asks for a little more time and Park is no longer friendly. Park reminds him of the promise to pay him back today; a promise that involved the removal of a hand. Tae-young says that he wouldn’t be here if it were not for Yeon-hee. Park doesn’t care. Tae-young had co-signed her loan. So, if he feels like he is also a victim, then he should bring her here. Tae-young insists that he would had she not disappeared and left all her stuff at his place. He claims that he has a lead for that money and that he just needs a week to get it. He will pay everything back with interest. Park agrees, but implies that the consequences for not paying will be this guy eating Tae-young’s intestines.

Tae-young returns home and…eesh, it is almost as messy as my place. He tries calling Yeon-hee, only to be informed that the number is off. So…what is his plan?

In the…changing room of a hostess bar, Mi-ran is looking at some site about big cash loans when the manager comes in with a cash advance from the boss whom he claims cares a lot about her. In exchange, he asks Mi-ran to go try to satisfy a client who keeps shooing girls away.

Mi-ran goes to the room and the guy accepts her. She sits next to him and pours him drinks. She asks if he is from China. Yes, from Huanren, which is pretty much right next to the border with North Korea. Mi-ran is unfamiliar with the place. She asks why he came to Korea and he tells her that he fled after killing someone…just kidding. He is here to make money.   

Mi-ran is back home sleeping on the sofa when her husband arrives. He gently wakes her up. She apologizes for not cleaning up the stuff on the rug and tries to start when he…uh…kicks her…and then steps on her face. Apparently, she got scammed out of a lot of money and he is using it as pretext to abuse her.

After getting a beating, Mi-ran notices some texts from the Chinese guy. He wants to meet up.

Chapter 2: Sucker

Tae-young calls someone named Dong-pal about bringing the money to the port in two days. We don’t hear the other side of the conversation, but judging from Tae-young’s responses, Dong-pal must be rather afraid. But Tae-young assures him that they are friends and that everything will be fine if they are careful. He hangs up and deletes the call record.

Some time later, Tae-young waits outside of the hostess club for the guy from before to emerge. Encounters. Apparently, the guy goes by the name Boongeo, or Carp. The two act all chummy chummy, but Carp seems to know that Tae-young is trying to rope him into some scheme. Anyways, Tae-young notes that the club seems to be busier than before. Apparently, the mysterious Yeon-hee had been the boss before Park took over, and suddenly the cops stopped cracking down on the place.

Wait, hold on. If Park took over the club, then why did Carp…well, anyways…

Carp asks about Yeon-hee. Tae-young says that he has a cop friend looking for her, but there are no credit card or car records. The cop claims that if he cannot find any information about her activities after a month, then she might be dead. Carp says that she is not someone who would die so easily. Tae-young seems offended by that statement, saying that she was still his girl. Regardless of how great the relationship had been, Carp reminds Tae-young that she took his money and took off. And then he starts mocking Tae-young for being all lovestruck. Tae-young seems about to strike Carp, but instead thanks him for being concerned.

And…for the line that Carp had been dreading. Tae-young tells him that he has baited a major sucker. A disgusted Carp tries to leave, but Tae-young tries to lean on family ties. Carp says that Tae-young is a distant cousin of a distant cousin, but Tae-young leans into it. And Carp relents. Tae-young says that a high school friend who is trying to get out of the country. He is carrying 100,000 on him. And, since it is not totally legit, he cannot go to the cops if he gets robbed. So, Tae-young has arranged to meet him at the port, where Carp can rob him. This must be that Dong-pal person. Carp is still skeptical, but it is not like he can back out now.

It is 10:03 PM when Joong-man arrives at work. His manager had been looking at the clock and scolds him for being 3 minutes late. Joong-man apologizes, saying that he had problems at home. The manager retorts that everyone has problems at home. He also reminds Joong-man that he would be fired if he was late twice in a month. He also implies that he suspects Joong-man of stealing sodas. Then he walks off.

With the arrival of Joong-man, his co-worker leaves. Joong-man asks if anyone had come for the bag. His coworker says no, but there was a guy looking for someone who went missing near here, and he left a flyer.

Oh, looks like Mi-ran and the Chinese guy totally did it. The Chinese…okay, his name is Jin-tae. Jin-tae claims that this was not his reason for texting her. Mi-ran doesn’t believe him, but does say that she liked it, which makes him happy. But now she has to go. Jin-tae asks her if she really needs to do that job and Mi-ran scoffs, as if he is going to pay her. He notices the marks on her back and asks if her husband had done that to her. She says that it is not like that, but he asks how she could live with him. She says that it is none of his concern, but Jin-tae tells her that women beaters will never change their habit. His father was like that to his mother. Jin-tae tried to step in, but his mother stopped him. She had gotten used to being beaten, so she would be. The same will go for Mi-ran, unless she puts a stop to it.

Back home, Mi-ran looks at her documents and checks death benefits. 500,000. Not too shabby.

Chapter 3: Food Chain

Joong-man goes to the hospital to see Young-sun. Yoon-hee is already there, and points out that she had arrived first despite coming all the way from Seoul. Joong-man says that there were no replacements at work. Young-sun tells Joong-man that she once again tried to stop Soon-ja from going to the shop, and once again Soon-ja accused her of attempting murder. Young-sun says that she cannot do this anymore.

Joong-man bikes home (better not drive a car) to a very unsympathetic mother. She claims that Young-sun pushed her on the stairs, even though it was Young-sun who fell down the stairs. Soon-ja says that Young-sun is dangerous, and that Joong-man has been enabling it by being too lax as a husband. Whatever. Joong-man goes to rest.

Tae-young waits by the bus stop near the port for Dong-pal, but he is not showing up. Nor is he answering his phone. Carp calls from the dock, asking what is taking so long. Did he agree to come merely to get the cops off his trail? Tae-young insists that Dong-pal trusts him and only him. Carp claims that people with big money do not trust others. Anyways, he tells Tae-young that he is leaving and hangs up.

Just then someone approaches Tae-young’s car and taps on the window. Well, it is not Dong-pal, but a cop looking for Dong-pal. Tae-young says that he does not know the name and does not recognize the person in the photo that the cop shows. The cop thanks him and is about to leave, but gives him one last look at the picture. Tae-young pretends to take a good look before repeating the lie, but the cop calls him by his name. Kang Tae-young, who graduated from the same high school as Oh Dong-pal in 1990, five years after the cop did. They were classmates who did not know each other? Using the drizzle as pretext, the cop GETS INTO Tae-young’s car. And there is nothing that Tae-young can do about it. Never mind that this man a cop; he is an elder alumnus of Tae-young’s school.

Tae-young treats the cop to dinner and looks at the picture again. He admits that he had a friend named Oh Dong-pal, but claims that he did not recognize him from the picture. Tae-young expresses disbelief that the model student whom he knew could pull a scam. The cop says that he understands Tae-young’s unwillingness to believe. He asks Tae-young if Dong-pal had contacted him. Tae-young says no, and asks if the cop had checked his call logs. The cop believes that he had been using a burner phone. Tae-young hands the cop his phone to prove that Dong-pal had never contacted him, but the cop declines to check, saying that Tae-young could have deleted the records.

Instead, the cop suggests that the two of them take a selfie together. He then asks whether Tae-young is married or has a girlfriend. When Tae-young says no, the cop tells him that he should enjoy life and have some fun. And…oh, he sends Tae-young the photo. How did he know Tae-young’s phone number? The cop says that that was hardly work. And now, time to barhop. But Tae-young says that he is done for the night. Really? No, time to barhop. Oh, wait, the sergeant is calling with an update about Dong-pal. So, Tae-young can do whatever. The cop thanks Tae-young for the meal and…leaves with the umbrella that Tae-young oh so nicely let him borrow. And just like that, Park calls.

In a car under a bridge, Mi-ran shows Jin-tae a photo of her husband. He tells her to go get some sleep, promising to take care of it.

The whistle of the boiling kettle wakes up Joong-man, he goes to confront his mother about it, but she is already asleep. He calls up his manager, who is at a…virtual golf range? Anyways, he says that he might be late, but the manager once again reminds him about the penalty. Joong-man apologizes and says that he will come in on time. But the manager tells him that he need not come in at all: he is fired. Joong-man tries to explain, but the manager doesn’t care. He hangs up. Joong-man is furious. And, then he remembers…the bag of money.

In the car, Jin-tae waits outside the bar that Mi-ran’s husband frequents at night. A man emerges. Is that him? It is difficult to tell in the rain, but Jin-tae goes for it anyways. He accelerates the car and runs over the guy.

Jin-tae calls up Mi-ran all excitedly. He killed her husband and buried him. Mi-ran is unhappy. It had to look like a car accident. Him being buried screws that up. Ji-tae says that something came up, and then says he will call back when his phone is charged.

Meanwhile, Mi-ran looks up more information, and it turns out that a missing person will be declared dead after five years. Can she wait that long?


Tae-young goes to see Park. It looks like Carp is already there, standing with his arms up as…punishment? Park asks Tae-young about this sucker whom he has hooked. Tae-young feigns ignorance, bringing up a puny bonus. Park starts throwing things at Carp for telling him lies. Tae-young reminds Park that it has not been a week yet. Park smiles and tells Carp to come over…and punches him in the face, scolding him for tricking Tae-young. The reasoning is deliberately faulty, with a not-so-hidden threat to remove Tae-young’s insides while making it seem like Carp is to blame.

Park has Carp apologize to Tae-young, which he does. But Park determines that that is not enough, and he orders his psycho minion to cut off one of Carp’s hands. Tae-young screams that Carp was telling the truth about the sucker. So now Park owes Carp an apology and acts annoyed that Tae-young has made him into the bad guy. But it is all good. Carp still has his hand, anyways. Now, what about that sucker?

Whatever Tae-young said to Park, it results in both him and Carp crouched outside in the rain. Carp asks Tae-young what they are going to do. Tae-young says that they have to track down the sucker. Carp shouts that he is probably long gone. So, Tae-young shows him the photo of him and the cop, saying that he is looking for the sucker as well. He tells Carp to follow the cop around. Carp does not like this idea at all, but Tae-young explains that the cop already knows his face. Also, Park has linked the both of them together in this scheme.

Carp seems to have broken down, so Tae-young takes out his packet of Lucky Strike cigarettes and tells Carp a story. He and a colleague were out cracking down on illegal aliens when Tae-young ran out of Lucky Strikes. His colleague offered him one of his non-Lucky Strike cigarettes, but Tae-young craved Lucky Strike. So, they drove to a store so that he could get a packet. As he was making his purchase, a dump track came out of nowhere and crashed into the car. Tae-young figures that he would be dead if not for those Lucky Strike cigarettes. It is Lucky Strike, not God or his ancestors, that has protected him. Granted, his colleague would have probably stayed alive if not for Lucky Strike. I am guessing that Carp may see it that way as well. But his options are limited at this point: one choice has him highly likely to get murdered soon and the other has him definitely going to get murdered soon. Lucky Strike it is, then.

Mi-ran keeps trying to call Jin-tae to no avail. Instead, he shows up at her door with a squeaking teddy bear. She covers his mouth and tries to leave the apartment before her husband wakes up. They go to the car where she tells him the bad news. And Jin-tae asks who did he kill. Obviously, Mi-ran doesn’t know, but it was obviously not her husband. So now what? Without even considering doing it again, Mi-ran tells Jin-tae to get rid of the car and return to China. Jin-tae complains that that he will not see her again, but she claims that she will go as well after she makes some money.

Joong-man goes to the hotel, acting happy to be there. He encounters…uh…his replacement. He tells the guy that he is just getting his stuff from storage and needs the key for it. The replacement gives him the key. Joong-man asks if the manager has arrived. Not yet.

Joong-man retrieves the bag and returns the key. He is about to walk out when the replacement points him out to two cops looking for a missing person. They show him a picture and…oh, it is the cop who has been looking for Dong-pal. Joong-man says that he has never seen that man before and that is that.

Joong-man goes to the elevator and…oh shit, there is the manager. Joong-man says that he just came to get his stuff. The manager looks at the bag, expressing surprise that he had that much stuff here. Some books, Joong-man says. Reading books while working; no wonder there were bad service reviews. Joong-man tries to leave, but the manager demands to see what books he had been reading. Joong-man refuses. The manager grabs the bag and Joong-man snaps. He is no longer Joong-man’s boss and, thus, no longer has authority over him, merely a man seven years his junior. Now speaking as an elder, Joong-man accuses his former manager of having no manners, and tells him to behave himself or get reported of skipping work to golf with female customers. Also, Joong-man claims to have been the hardest worker.

With that, Joong-man heads home. After checking the amount of cash in the bag, he puts it back in the bag, and hides the bag in a box of keepsakes, which includes a picture of his father. He looks at the picture. This must be his father giving him one last chance.

And that concludes Chapter 3

This is Kim Yong-hoon’s debut as a director and writer. At least for a full-length film. It is slick enough that one might not notice, but there are also some rough edges and shortcuts to go with the first-timer ambition. I am not too interested in trying to pick apart that aspect of the movie, and I wouldn’t know what I was talking about anyways.

This movie was adapted from a book of the same name by Sone Keisuke. Though there were several changes made, particularly taking out more overt Japanese elements, the author did give it his approval. I am not sure how exactly how much was changed from the book, but I would be interested to see whether that book treated the “chapters” in a similar manner to the movie. There is definitely one aspect of the film that I wonder was the same in the book, but I will not get into it here.

The story is meant to be about how the desire for money can turn ordinary people into monsters. Eh. I guess. For Joong-man, at least, it is relatively easy to trace his descent from decency. It is a little less clear for Tae-young and Mi-ran, as their stories both start with them already under the thumb of dangerous men due to being the victims of scams that do not get fully explained. So, we do not see what they were like before all that happened to them.

It is not immediately apparent how these main characters connect to each other, though it is apparent that their stories take place in the same city. I guess that it could be seen as the characters being at different points in their lives in terms of debt. Joong-man is struggling, but sort of able to make ends meet until circumstances and the stubbornness of others push him to the brink. Mi-ran is in free fall and perhaps resigned to a life of abuse until an opportunity to escape presents itself to her. Supposedly an officer in charge of enforcing the law, Tae-young is deep in the game, scrambling to recover from being scammed by scamming another scammer before his destiny catches up to him.

The world of this movie seems to be full of scammers, scumbags, and thieves. It is a little judgmental, but more gleefully mean-spirited. There is…some sympathy for a couple of characters, but it does not extend very far and can easily curdle into contempt. The fun of the movie is watching the various characters bump up against each other and sometimes bump each other off. Other times, a character can drastically change the life of another without either of them ever knowing of the other’s existence. There are few people who do things for others without being obligated to do so or without having an ulterior motive. The question is more just how far gone are certain characters? Do they realize how far they have gone? Do they care? Obviously, some are more cutthroat than others, but could those others be pushed as well?

The characters are not particularly original or fleshed out. They are not really meant to be. I guess that it is meant to be easy for the viewer to get a read on the characters early on and follow them on their journey unless some facet of their personality gets revealed as a twist. Sometimes this works better than others. It is a little jarring how quickly murder becomes a viable option for Mi-ran. And then there is a character who shows up later in the film who seems to just exist to wreak havoc as charmingly as possible, and it is a little difficult to get a read on this character. But it is all in the name of fun.

A little cynical, a little cruel, a little violent, a lot of fun. I highly enjoyed this movie.

WTF ASIA 212: Ramprasad Ki Tehrvi (India: 2019, approx. 113 minutes)


Available in AustraliaCanadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries

WTF ASIA 213: Passer By (Mongolia: 2017, approx. 115 minutes)

No Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Just be careful that it is not the James Nesbit movie. Also, it is on AsianCrush and Tubi, though the Tubi version is slightly slower, making it just under 2 hours.