In Derrick Borte's 2020 film Unhinged, when one stranger honked at another stranger on the road, we got an action thriller where a mother became the target of a mentally unstable psycho. In Beef, two strangers again honk at and chase each other on the road, but the resulting developments go in wildly demented territories. Personal space is invaded, and minds are manipulated because everyone is wicked. The sweetest way to describe Beef is that it's a love story. But to reach that sweet spot, the series goes through a path filled with thorns. Boy meets girl, all right. However, it's less of a meet-cute and more of a meet-rude. The boy chases the girl, not to propose to her or give her flowers. But to shout at her. Furthermore, like in a traditional rom-com, the boy and the girl stay away from each other and become a couple during the climax. And yes, the audience clearly sees they are soulmates meant to be together. But the reasons here for the "separation" are very different. Beef is not exactly a rom-com. It's twisted, delirious, funny, romantic, and amorous.
Beef often gives us hints regarding which direction it's headed, but it also hides the specifics from us, making everything unpredictable. Take the opening scenes, for instance. When Danny (Steven Yeun) tries to return some stuff at a counter, the score steadily rises, and we feel he will punch the employee or at least scream at him in frustration. But his anger is subdued, and we wait for its eruption, which happens a few minutes later at the parking lot. Or take another scene where Amy (Ali Wong) invites Paul (Young Mazino) to her hotel room in Las Vegas. "Nothing physical can happen between us," Amy tells this horny and overexcited boy, and we intuit something physical would indeed happen between them. But Beef again delays the moment that is predicted by us.
This is a very unpredictable show. It revels in playing with our expectations. That's why guessing how a scene or a shot will end becomes impossible. This quality gives rise to shock, humor, and sometimes both of these feelings at once (I am thinking about that scene where a character jumps on the other side of a big wall). Beef is quite excellent at maintaining its mood and momentum, and this is a high compliment, considering it almost always changes its temper. At one moment, you might be surprised at - or turned on by - someone masturbating with a gun. Seconds later, you might find yourself grinning at a character's childish action (peeing on the floor of a bathroom). Beef strikes a perfect balance between dark comedy and emotional drama. Even when it tilts too heavily in either one of the directions, it expertly and easily bounces back to its original position when required.
Amy and Danny are extremely toxic characters. They also come with moral consciousness, which is why they often stop themselves from doing something terrible when they discover their target is emotionally vulnerable. Amy and Danny have a beef with one another (hence, the title), and they take vicious steps to hurt each other. Yet, the series makes sure the audience doesn't completely hate them by allowing us to see where their aggravation is coming from. We are never immensely repulsed by the characters or avert our gaze away from them. In fact, their actions become a source of entertainment, and we eagerly wonder how much the boundary of viciousness would be pushed (the more, the better).
Of course, other characters, too (directly or indirectly), get involved in the fight between Amy and Danny, including people close to them. If Amy goes after Paul, Danny's brother, then Danny strikes a friendship with George (Joseph Lee), Amy's husband. George is an artist, and his art, which looks like a turd, is used for mockery and pretentious dialogues. "There is no wrong way to judge art," says George at one point. Taking these words as inspiration, consider the presence of crows in Beef. Amy scares off a crow with her gun, Danny remarks that birds love him when he climbs a tree, a flirty conversation is interrupted by a cawing crow, and we hear two stories related to, well, crows. Do they signify bad luck? The characters, after all, are inflicted with severe mental and physical injuries. Whatever their significance, the sightings and the stories are weirdly linked in the last episode.
As the story progresses, we realize that the title is not only related to the conflict between Amy and Danny. The characters have a beef with their families too. The talk regarding the issues passed down from generation to generation becomes explicit during the last episode. Before that, you notice traces of it in Danny, who is obsessed with seeking approval from his family. The word "family" is as toxic as the central characters in Beef. Amy's parents are imperfect (the dad cheated on the mom in the past). Amy's familial life itself is defective (she cheats on George physically, while he cheats on her emotionally). Danny's cousin, Isaac (David Choe), is a manipulative criminal, and Danny harbors a secret that, when revealed, creates a wide rift between him and Paul. The term "happy family" is a facade that masks private misery. This is a broken world with crooked characters. Even a signboard at a church is...crooked. Whether it is a house or a place of worship, personal or professional relationships, everything demands improvement, so characters often talk about renovation or building new things.
All the actors are in good form, but Yeun is terrific. He is not playing a character. He seems to be presenting a side of himself. Yeun digs into his personal space and brings out a sympathetic loser. His performance is so great it overshadows everyone else's. Compare Wong with him, and you will find artifices in her acting. Every twitch and every blink looks premeditated to enchant the audience. I could be wrong, but it's just that in the presence of Yeun, the other actors appear serviceable. They look just fine.
If you are someone who regularly complains about Mediocre Netflix Shows and feeble sex scenes, go watch Beef. It's not something you should watch while folding your laundry. It will deliver wicked entertainment, provided you pay attention to it. Beef is a wild ride, and I am glad I took it.
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