Beasts Clawing at Straws (Jipuragirado japgo sipeun jimseungdeul)


She drives all night.

(2020) Thriller (ArtsploitationDo-yeon Jeon, Woo-sung Jung, Sung-Woo Bae, Man-sik Jeong, Jin Kyung, Shin Hyon Bin, Ga-ram Jung, Jun-han Kim, Yuh Jung Youn. Directed by Yong-hoon Kim

 

South Korea has been quietly, without fanfare, turning into a world class film capitol. It’s no accident that the most recent Best Picture came from South Korea; the movies there have been getting better and better in quality over the past 15 years, and now can proudly be put up there with any on the planet.

This ensemble noir black comedy/drama/thriller starts off with a Louis Vuitton bag left in a sauna locker. The very put-upon attendant at the gym, Jung-Man (Bae) discovering that the bag is full of cash. Enough to make a lot of problems go away, and brother, does Jung-Man have problems. His mother is convinced that Jung-Man’s wife is trying to kill her, but only if her son’s fecklessness doesn’t kill her first; she’s convinced her flesh and blood can do nothing right. The kind of money that’s in the bag can get the bitter old woman into a facility for bitter old women and Jung-Man and his wife into a nicer home.

But how did that bag get there in the first place? Oh, that’s explained in a flashback as Tae-Young (W-s Jung), a customs inspector with the moral compass that always points at his own best interests, has fallen deeply into debt to mobster Du Man (Jeong). You see, Tae’s girlfriend, brothel owner Yeon-Hee (Jeon) ran out on her debt to Du Man after Tae-Young vouched for her, meaning that now he owes her debt. He must come up with the money quickly, and so he comes up with a scheme to defraud a sucker, whose girlfriend, Mi Ran (Bin) works in the brothel of Yeon-Hee. The sucker also beats her regularly, so she enlists a Chinese client to kill the boyfriend and make it look like an accident. There is also a greasy cop who is sure that something unsavory is going on, and there’s also a serial killer on the loose. Got all that so far?

It sounds like a mess and I’ll admit that early on, it’s a bit difficult to follow. You need to be on your toes and paying attention, but I promise you, it is truly worth it. The ending brings all these separate stories together and as things slowly begin to untangle, your first instinct will be “How did I not SEE that coming” before sinking into a satisfied smirk that you’ve lucked into watching one of the better crime movies in recent memory.

The ensemble cast is really good – there’s not a false note in any performance that I could see. The movie is so well-scripted and so perfectly plotted that even though you may sometimes have some doubts that the filmmakers can tie all this together, they do. That they do with as much style and humor as they do is a tribute to their filmmaking skills; I’d put this on the level of Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, two filmmakers who have clearly influenced Yong-hoon Kim a great deal.

If you like movies that keep you guessing, if you like movies that have endings that give you faith that it is still possible to create great movies, if you like movies that you like better the more you think about it after seeing it, and if you don’t mind slowly building to that point, this is a movie you need to see. Keep an eye out for it on your favorite streaming service; this one’s a keeper.

REASONS TO SEE: An intricate plot that keeps you guessing. The ending is jaw-dropping.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit of a slog at times (but worth it in the end).
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is based on a novel by Japanese writer Keisuke Sone.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Rakuten Viki
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/3/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knives Out
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Recon

Office (O piseu)


You never know what lies beneath the surface of an office drone.

You never know what lies beneath the surface of an office drone.

(2015) Suspense (Little Big Pictures) Ah-Sung Ko, Sung-Woong Park, Sung-Woo Bae, Eui-Sung Kim, Hyoun-Kyoung Ryoo, Soo-Hyun Son, Chae-Eun Lee, Dae-Hwan Oh, Chang-Yong Lee, Jung-Min Park, Sung-Chan Son. Directed by Won-Chan Hong

If there is a more cut-throat environment than the modern corporate office, I can’t think of one. Office politics are as savage a human undertaking as any lion hunt. The backstabbing and venal office gossip can not only destroy careers but also lives.

&Byung-Guk Kim (Bae), a sad-eyed sales manager for Cheil, a huge food and beverage distributor, returns home after a long, rough day at the office. Taking the train home from work, his almost zombie-like expression is troubling, but when he comes home to wife and son all seems well…until he picks up a hammer.

The next day, Kim’s sales team intern Mi-Rae Lee (Ko) hurries into work, late again. She arrives there to find the police questioning the team about Mr. Kim, whose family has been brutally murdered. Her manager warns her to not divulge anything that would place the company under a negative light, but still under the questioning of Detective Jong-Hoon (S-W Park) she admits that Kim had been under intense pressure and was desperately unhappy.

It turns out he had plenty of reason to be. Sales director Sang-Gyu Kim (Kim) runs sales meetings like the Spanish Inquisition, berating his team with profanity and belittlement. Setting unreasonable sales goals, he mocks even those on his team who meet those goals for not having done it soon enough, or in the manner that was expected of them. The drones, terrified for their jobs, work brutal hours, haunting the office well after dark, ghosts shuffling in the hallways as hard drives whir and printers vomit out ream after ream of sales figures.

As the police investigate, it is determined by reviewing surveillance footage from the company’s security system that the murderer returned to the office after committing his crimes and that none of the security cameras recorded him leaving. Jong-Hoon is convinced that the killer is hiding in the building itself. When bodies start turning up on Sales Team 2,  his worst suspicions are confirmed – but not in the way he thinks.

We mostly see this movie through the eyes of the intern Mi-Rae. Ko turns in a magnificent performance as the put-upon intern. Through her perpetually hunched body language, we see physically her subservient demeanor and through her often panicked eyes we see how desperate she is to be promoted to full-time. When a pretty, foreign-educated new intern (S-H. Son) is hired for the team, her anxieties increase. She is well past the time when most interns are hired on the company. She has a lot going against her – she’s a country girl rather than a Seoul sophisticate, and she can’t understand why her hard work seems to get derision rather than praise.

First-time director Hong has crafted a wonderful thriller here. While some have characterized this as a horror film, there really isn’t enough gore or other horrific elements to really fit the bill. The first murders of Kim’s family are done in a Hitchcockian style, in which the viewer appears to see more than they do; the hammer he uses to massacre his family falls, we see blood spattering the walls but never the hammer connecting with flesh. That contrasts with a later murder of a bitchy assistant manager who is stabbed repeatedly until she falls into a heap to the floor and even that is relatively bloodless, although not blood-free.

Hong utilizes the bland environment of a modern office nicely, creating a creepy atmosphere that heightens the tension as the late night silence of a bustling office becomes threatening and frightening. The electronic score heightens the tension nicely, and most viewers should find themselves perched resolutely on the edge of their seats.

As much a satire of the corporate culture of Korea as it is a thriller, this Office is a solid although not spectacular suspense film. There are a few twists and turns but the main twist should be easily picked up by most veteran movie buffs. The pacing is a bit slow and the film at nearly two hours probably a good 20 minutes longer than it should be. Still, for those looking for something a bit different, this Korean film which has yet to acquire U.S. distribution should be one to look out for on the festival circuit and hopefully on streaming sources sometime next year. It was the opening night film at the New York Korean Film Festival.

REASONS TO GO: Hitchcockian suspense. Terrific performance by Ko. Utilizes environment to perfection.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit too long. Pacing could have picked up a little.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence, some of it bloody, a bit of profanity as well as a surfeit of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Debuted at Cannes as part of their Midnight Madness series, and made it’s American debut at Fantastic Fest in Austin October 1st.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/9/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rear Window
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Bridge of Spies