Starring Yu-Kai Teng, Kent Tsai, Eugenie Liu, Carolyn Chen
Directed by Giddens Ko
WARNING: THIS REVIEW IS FULL OF SPOILERS, SO READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL
I was a bullied child. For years and years through both elementary, middle school, and a good portion of high school, I was the butt of jokes, the recipient of shoves, bumps, trips, etc…, the focal point for mockery and hatred, and so much more. As a result, movies about bullying bring up rather painful memories and evoke certain feelings, which range from anger to sadness, empathy to resignation. Now, couple those personal connections with a horror movie and you’re bound to generate my interest simply because I have a greater personal stake involved. After all, isn’t a movie supposed to be, at the very least, more memorable when you feel like a part of yourself is embedded in its foundation?
Enter Giddens Ko’s Mon Mon Mon Monsters, a movie that follows Lin Shu-wei (Teng), a teenager who is bullied incessantly by his classmates. His introduction comes when he is standing in front of his classroom being pelted by rolled up pieces of paper while his teacher looks on, asking only that the students not hit her. Turns out he is being accused of stealing the class fees and is being humiliated by students and teacher alike, all the while professing his innocence. His punishment comes in the form of community service, which sees him bringing food to a community of elders. To make matters worse, three of his bullies are forced to join him, which sees them turn the charitable act into one large game of mocking these lonely geriatrics. Shu-wei joins them, almost immediately turning into a bully himself. As their “friendship” grows and Shu-wei becomes more involved with the bullies, his good self seems to retreat further.
While all of this is happening, two monstrous women are picking off and eating local homeless people. Now, that sounds terrifying – and it is – but there is a delicate and loving relationship between the two that is specifically highlighted, giving them a strange humanity that is absent from the other actual humans in the film.
During a robbery of one of the elderly shut-ins, the four boys stumble across these two creatures and end up capturing the younger one, bringing her to their secret school hideout where they begin torturing her for their own sick amusement. But as the older monstrous sister begins searching for her sibling and the body count starts to rise, the boys have to figure out how to fix this mess that they’ve created.
It’s hard to know what to make of Mon Mon Mon Monsters as I don’t know who I’m supposed to be rooting for. Shu-wei never really shows that he’s a good person despite his being the target or bullying. Sure he shows empathy and pity towards the younger monster but he never does to his fellow humans. When offered sympathy by a classmate who is also the target of bullying (so much so that she keeps her desk outside of the classroom and learns through an open window), he dismisses her, yelling at her to “Fuck off”. Another example comes when, after a night of drunken karaoke-ing with his new bully friends, Shu-wei goes into a shop that is being watched by an autistic man who insists that people get their own change. Shu-wei takes out his rage and frustrations on this man who obviously can’t understand what he has done wrong. I can understand Shu-wei’s pain but I would never want to associate myself with him. He’s no better than the people he fears and detests.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, his teacher (Chen) is also a piece of garbage. She is so eager to ignore the bullying she sees in her classroom that she insists Shu-wei take blame for stealing the class fees, even when presented with blindingly obvious evidence to the contrary. Later in the film, she berates Duan Ren-hao (Tsai), the head of the bullies, in the most vile of ways by using his family issues as a way of undermining his emotional stability. It’s nothing short of gross.
With nearly all the humans portrayed as rather disgusting and unlikeable, we have to turn to the monsters, who are shown in a very empathetic light. The older sister screams in pain and loneliness during her searches, tears streaming down her face. The younger sister is the subject of horrific torture at the hands of the bullies, including the removal of teeth, aiming sunlight at her skin to cause severe burns (they’re kinda like vampires, in that regard), and quite literally screwing a metal plate over her mouth. But we can’t forget that the opening sequence of the film is of these two creatures killing and eating the innards of a transient man as he lets out his dying gasps. At the end of the day, they’re monsters that feed on those who are innocent and guilty alike, so how am I supposed to care for them?
To speak positively of the film, there are some fantastic sequences. There’s a thrilling moment where the older sister gets onto a bus that is full of students from the school where her younger sibling is being held. As the kids scream in terror and fright, she dispatches them one by one, the bus filling with blood, rocking back and forth in the middle of a busy intersection while no one stops to help. The vindictive side of me took enormous amounts of schadenfreude and perverse glee in this moment.
Visually, there is wonderful use of lighting and the production value is pretty damn high. Each location feels like a lot of thought was put into how it could be used to its greatest effect. Also, the monster sisters, while nothing too original to look at (dirty, disheveled hair, long fingernails, and pointy teeth), are exciting to watch as they scamper quickly across floors and walls, scurrying about almost like the xenomorph in Alien 3.
With a near two-hour runtime, Mon Mon Mon Monsters could definitely use some trimming. There are scenes that feel like they’re in the movie just to pad the length and some of the sequences are overly long and could be edited for a tighter final result. By the end of the 2nd act, I was beginning to check my watch to see how much longer I had before the credits began to roll.
While I won’t spoil the ending, I will say that it’s a two-parter, the first part being incredibly unsatisfying while the second part rectifies that in the most chaotic and nihilistic of ways.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters is exciting and entertaining but there are serious issues with pacing. Furthermore, it gets a bit confusing trying to understand who to root for, if anyone at all.