[Review] Beef S1 (2023) by Marcus Wilturner

So we’re beefin‘? Yeah, we’re beefin‘.

It’s often said that in this modern, contemporary world, so much is on the brink of collapse, devastation, and desolation. The environment, the government, the economy, even humanity itself is losing its place in the grand scheme. And it’s as apparent today as it was decades, even centuries ago. Such is life. Such is change. Creation and destruction. The never ending cycle.

Also in this painstaking reality, violence begets violence. Escalation begets escalation. Revenge is a dish best served cold, hot, and raw. And an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind, becoming lambs to the slaughter in an A24/Netflix series that caught myself completely off-guard with how exceptionally powerful, emotional, and fucked it is. Masterfully created by Lee Sung Jin, starring Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, this is a psychological drama and dark comedy for the AGES! Even found a new term for this type of story — Tragicomedy. I believe it implicitly applies.

Two people, Danny Cho and Amy Lau, (Yeun and Wong) from the complete opposite ends of the social/financial tracks get into a road rage incident that spirals both of their respective lives into the dredges of mutual assured destruction, suburban warfare, and unwavering pettiness as they try connivingly and desperately to make each other’s lives a certifiable living hell.

On paper, this could’ve easily been a Falling Down (1993), War of the Roses (1989), Changing Lanes (2002) variant or homage, being an updated version of those and other films with similar premises. Yet, BEEF (2023) is an entirely different bird altogether. One that contains not only the titular conflict in all its destructive glory, but a ton of elements, themes, examinations, and deconstructions that completely overwhelm each other, yet form a chaotic synchronicity in the same token. Which makes the whole season one of the wildest and addictive gems Nettyflix has put out in a long time. And just another Tuesday when it comes to the brilliant consistency of A24.

This story dives deeply into western/eastern ideologies, cultural rivalry, mental illness, intergenerational trauma, wealth, class, religion, faith, interspersed contrivances, familial responsibilities, inner turmoil, sadism, self-deprecation, nihilism, and as stated before pettiness, pettiness, PETTINESS. And there’s even more on the docket…So much so, this review would turn into an essay. Though it wouldn’t surprise me that this series could be used as an extensive lesson or lecture in collegiate courses because its topics are overflowing with discussion points for anyone to explore.

Though here on this review one interesting theme (of near countless) that floored me was how this feud between our two hugely flawed main characters morphed into quite a few things for them in the span of the season. At first, their hate-fueled beef becomes their distraction from their not-so-great-and-fulfilling lives and then slowly becomes their legitimate purpose for living. It also acts as their therapist, scapegoat, anger management, psychological release, and even their unlikely salvation. Yep, you read that right. Which sounds twisted and somewhat decadent but unfortunately there it is. You’ll have to watch to see what I mean.

Now, some may believe this series is an exercise in misery porn and you wouldn’t be far off considering its sinister intent, yet to balance it out I will state this is one of the most hilarious and grounded depictions of the absolute worst and best of people. Our characters are hugely dimensional when it comes to their perspectives, personalities, and yearnings. It echoes much of us in that regard as well because at the end of the day, we all want to be seen, we all want to be heard, and we all want to live the best lives we can even though so much is against us….even ourselves. And when we’re not obtaining any of what we desire, despite our hard work and sacrifices, it can cause us to spin out of control, bringing us ever closer to that aforementioned brink. Yep, been there, and this saga does a bang up job conveying that unyielding truth for many in the world.

The casting, writing, dialogue, performances, cinematography, music, sound design, direction, and even the title sequences are top-notch across the board. Sharp, engaging, and layered. Plus there’s a huge emphasis on distinct types of art and its various interpretive processes sprinkled throughout this production. Even the opening title card of each episode displays various abtract and surrealist paintings that are beautiful and informative on the many turns that you’ll witness in each episode. (Every painting was done by David Choe, who plays “Isaac” in the series as well. The exception being the first episode’s painting, which was done by late-great dutch artist Pieter Aertsen).

And our two leads? Well, that’s easy. Steven Yeun and Ali Wong are complete freaking revelations here. Putting on a masterclass of acting with insurmountable range from seething anger to staggering zen. Yeun has been here before thanks to his versatile showings on The Walking Dead (2010 -2022), Mayhem (2017), and two other A24 films; Minari (2020) and The Humans (2021). So it’s no shocker he can put in such a performance. But Wong definitely surprised with her equally compelling portrayal, considering beforehand she’s mostly been an exceptional writer and marvelous stand-up comedian. Their chemistry was off the charts even when they were spitting their venom at each other. They easily carried this entire season like champs. This goes without saying but if they aren’t nominated for SOMETHING during award season it’ll definitely be a travesty of epic proportions.

Bottom line, this rollercoaster ride already stands as one of the best shows of 2023. A mountain of madness, tsunami of moral complexities, and sweeping humanistic experience that’s destined to be a modern classic. One for the history books. Undeniable, Uncomfortable, and Uncompromising, it’s the kind of story that should be produced in this day and age, shining a light on human nature and our greatest and darkest impulses. And it needs to be seen by everyone, if only to show how one wrong turn deserves another, and how one right turn can bring us back to where we were supposed to be all along.

Yeah. we’re definitely Beefin‘.


Review written by Marcus Wilturner


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