Not all monsters have clawed fingers, sharp fangs and murky grey skin.
With demonic ghoul sisters, gory bloodshed, and sadistic high school bullies, “Mon Mon Mon Monsters” has the total horror film package. But while it is violent and dark, there is plenty of comedic relief to mediate the story’s nihilist direction and add offbeat fun. As director Gidden Ko’s second feature film, this dark Taiwanese comedy radically deviates from the light-hearted, romantic themes of his first and trails into a deadly narrative, representing the loss of adolescent innocence and the wickedness of humanity.
“Mon Mon Mon Monsters” opens with the sisterly relationship between two cannibalistic creatures, feeding off a fresh human killing. As we see these monsters trying to survive the streets of Taipei, the scene pans to o ur main protagonist, Lin Shu-wei (Deng Yu-kai), attempting to survive high school while being spuriously accused and pelted by paper balls in his class. Alas, as a timid student, Lin Shu-wei is an easy target for school bullies, who make it their mission to spiral his life into a living hell. To exacerbate the situation, his unfazed teacher groups him with his tormentors to complete community service — that is, until they inadvertently stumble upon both the monsters. But when the rambunctious group actually captures one, the consequences are gruesome — not for the teens, but the monster.
The boys enchain the monster and, through a series of torturous and abusive scenes, we witness the unabashed, inhuman intentions of the bullies. Between the disturbing acts, the persecuted monster is shown in a compassionate light, illuminating that it is a mere, frightened child. Meanwhile, Lin Shu-wei vacillates as a double-agent, caring for and feeding his blood to the famished monster behind the backs of his tormentors. It becomes clear though that, as an accomplice to the merciless actions of the bullies, he is just as guilty and accountable in maiming an innocent monster, who is living by animalistic instinct.
Though most scenes, such as the torture of the helpless monster, are grotesque, one in particular stands out for its aesthetic. As the uncaptured monster searches for her companion, she goes on a vicious rampage, shredding through a busload of students. The visual style is over-the-top and bizarre: A gray palette stained with viscous splashes of red while Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” soothingly sways over the brutal imagery. During the screening at the UC San Diego Price Center, director Ko was present and actually received backlash for destructive scenes such as this one, denigrated for being “too sick” and “promoting violence.” However, this movie is intended to catch the audience off-guard with picturesque visuals of a grimy massacre, seeking to elicit shock, fear, and even thrill within all its spectators.
Unlike the film’s consistently stylish visuals, the storytelling is not as seamless. It muddles the development of supporting characters and potential sympathetic closure at the film’s end. The supporting actors are resplendent in their performances as juvenile delinquents, but that’s all they are — one-dimensional bullies. The film attempts to delve into the past of the most sociopathic bully, Ren-hao (Kent Tsai), but his behavior is glossed over and categorized as petty, murderous revenge. Rather than transcending the causes and effects of bullying and providing greater insight into the inner beasts of all its characters, Ko subjects Lin Shu-wei’s character to cruelty and darkness without any semblance of redemption, causing his character to weaken and feel incomplete. The movie is plainly rife with awful, immoral characters, leaving the viewers not so much entertained as confused as to who to root for or empathize with.
A larger part of this outlandish horror-comedy is the narrative of a misguided youth that is as heinous and foul as the monsters. It asserts that all people are capable of great evil, whether or not it fits their constructed personalities. At times, our empathy is caught between the bloodthirsty monsters and the noxious, pain-inflicting bullies. But the story’s potential ultimately boils down to the dilemmatic question: Who are the real monsters here?
Director: Giddens Ko
Starring: Deng Yu-kai, Kent Tsai, Carolyn Chen, Eugenie Liu, Lin Pei-hsin
Release Date: July 28, 2017 (Taiwan)
Image Courtesy of Vie Vision Pictures