I thought the title of this Korean thriller was Beasts Clawing At Straws but sometimes these translations are a bit fuzzy. We ended up going to see it because it was too far a trek to see Closet not at a 8PM showing. The Flower wanted to see Closet, which features actors she recognizes from other Korean films (she’s better at that than The Boy and I are), but this looked like it might have elements of a revenge picture, and she never wants to see another Korean revenge picture.
It’s not, but this thriller is still fairly in that category of films where the activities you’ve been entertained by for the past two hours are things you should never ever do. Exploitation, essentially, though classy when the Koreans do it, maybe.
There are three stories told in an interlocking manner: A man who works at a sauna comes across a bag full of money; A customs officer who owes money to a loan shark after he lent it to his wandering girlfriend is trying to scam a bunch of money off an old friend who obtained it illegally, and; A woman with an abusive husband finds a patsy to kill the husband so she can collect his insurance.
It’s a tale of twists and turns, as you might imagine and, as you might also predict, the money all three are chasing is the same. The other thing you might predict is that they’re all worse human beings than you initially believed. And still another thing that might fall into the “predictable” category is that the money almost seems supernaturally cursed, by the end. This isn’t done with coincidence, mind you: It’s just that the forces involved with this money are nihilistically destructive and single-minded.
The sauna guy is the closest thing to a hero, here. (From my experience with Asian films, sauna custodian is the lowest rung of the ladder for employment.) He’s trying to keep his household afloat with sauna money, which ain’t great. He has no respect from his wife or daughter, but he’s honest and diligent while working for a boss who accuses him of every nasty thing, including stealing snacks. His mother, who lives with him and hates his wife, has dementia and his boss has no sympathy for his lateness and fires him.
So, you can sorta see why this guy would be tempted, and you sorta feel like, well, if anyone’s going to have the money, it might as well be him. On the other hand, the only thing this guy really has (besides his humble house) is his integrity. So, you’re kind of rooting for him, if nothing else than to do the right thing.
Actually, you root for a number of the characters as they go along. Like our customs officer, apart from being a lowlife loser, is actually a kind of devil-may-care rambling guy whose bold gambling really pays off—or would, if he weren’t surrounded by other lowlife losers. It’s easy to have sympathy for an abused wife, although said sympathy tends to evaporate when her way out ends up leading to a lot of…unpleasantness. Though it sort of surges again when…
Well, look, there’s a lot of twists, as I said.
A fun, little, nasty debut movie from Yong-Hoon Kim. Check it out!