BiFan 2017 Review: MON MON MON MONSTERS, Giddens Ko's Brutal, Stylish High School Horror-Comedy
In the hands of Taiwanese filmmaker Giddens Ko, high school has rarely been so terrifying, yet wacky.
Taiwanese filmmaker Giddens Ko returns to high school for his follow up to the massively entertaining and successful You Are the Apple of My Eye, but things take a much darker turn in Mon Mon Mon Monsters, a mile-a-minute horror-comedy combo that delights and shocks in equal measure.
Lin is mercilessly bullied by all his classmates in high school while his callous homeroom teacher looks on, happy to add to his misery. After a session of community service helping the elderly, he finds himself bonding with his worst bullies when they capture a flesh-eating monster. The group relentlessly torture the creature while its older sister tries to track it down. Lin grapples with his desire to help to poor beast and his newfound social rank among his peers.
Immediately reminding us of his flair for the cinematic, Ko opens the film with a series of mood-building shots that begin in a ramshackle store, continue with a hirsute homeless man and end with the introduction of the antagonists (or are they?) deep underground. Yet, the violence in the opening feels nowhere near as jarring as what will come, first with the cruelty seen in the classroom and then the torture scenes around an abandoned pool.
The captured monster may be older than its appears, but it looks and behaves like an elementary school girl, which makes the violence visited upon her hard to watch. The youths, particularly the psychotic bully leader Ren-hae, are nasty to each other and violently disrespectful to the elderly, but if Ko is trying to make a point about the disaffection of modern youth, it quickly becomes lost beneath stylized brutality.
When the other monster begins to close in, the body count ramps up considerably, but the over-the-top gore is more cartoonish and thus easier to swallow. It's also a heck of a lot of fun, and seems to pay tribute to the mountains of high school student corpses found in modern Japanese cinema (one bus scene calls to mind the memorable opening of a recent Sono Sion film). By glossing over a few threads and characters, the film doesn't quite stick the landing but Ko gets the last laugh with an excellent coda that manages to raise the stakes of an already horrifying scenario.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters is a wacky and frequently entertaining high school horror-comedy that has just the right balance of novel and familiar elements. At the helm, Ko presents himself once more as an ace stylist as he taps a fantastically deep well of imagination. On the other hand, it also displays a disturbing knack for cruelty that won't sit well with some viewers, who may also find it hard to latch on emotionally due to a lack of sympathetic characters.