The first clue is in the title. Beasts Clawing at Straws is exactly as suggested: a remorseless tale of pitiless people doing horrendous things.

The South Korean black comedy, which is out on Mubi, revolves around a stash of ill-gotten money. A Louis Vuitton bag stuffed with crisp Won notes has made its way to a locker at the sauna of a plush hotel. It’s found by a hotel employee and claimed by, in no order of importance, a sex worker, a brothel madam, a gangster whose enforcer relishes intestines whether piscine or human and a debt-ridden port authority officer.

The wickedly entertaining first-time effort, by Kim Yong-hoon, is based on a Japanese novel of the same name by Keisuke Sone. The 108-minute movie is divided into six chapters, of which ‘Shark’ and ‘Food Chain’ aptly sum up the grisliness in store for the characters and viewers.

Kim’s screenplay, which plays with causality and deftly rolls out the betrayals and visual gags, is in the mould of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Although we sort of know what to expect, there is no laziness in Yong-hoon’s efforts to create characters who are believable in their misery and pathetic in their ambitions.

Shot by Kim Tae-sung (A Hard Day) in vivid neon pop tones, the film jangles with atmosphere and suspense. An excellent cast carries off the deadpan humour and all-round cynicism that spares no man or woman who have laid eyes on the LV tote.

Among the actors is Youn Yuh-jung, who won a Best Supporting Oscar for Minari in 2020. Her character might have dementia, but there is no pitying this cruel grannie.

Jeon Do-yeon (Secret Sunshine) is the deadly brother owner with a tell-tall tattoo. Jung Woo-sung is superb as the port authority officer whose good looks can’t save him from his debtors. Director Kim expertly steers his actors past pools of blood and dismembered bodies, tongue firmly in cheek and one hand on the butchering knife.

Beasts Clawing at Straws (2020).