Right off the bat, acclaimed director Giddens Ko makes his statement – this is not like his 2011 hit You Are The Apple of My Eye.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters may be set in a high-school, but bears nothing of the previous work’s whimsy or sentimentality. Instead, it asks the classic question – what makes a monster, a monster? The film slashes through topics such as bullying, aging, human nature and society, while serving up scenes of gore worthy of a Tarantino.
We are quickly introduced to a pair of humanoid creatures who pounce upon a hobo, tearing him up for a night feast. Villains established? Maybe not.
We jump into a classroom, where the awkward Lin Shu Wei (Deng Yukai) is being accused of stealing the class fees. It’s obvious the head hooligan Duan Ren Hao (Kent Tsai), his pair of lackeys (Liao Guo Feng & Ye Wei Zhu) and girlfriend (Bonnie Liang) are the culprits, but they turn the tables and taunt the hapless Shu Wei with a viciousness that’s clearly psychopathic.
The clueless form teacher Ms Li (Carolyn Chen) suggests a community mission for the elderly to help the kids bond, but it turns ugly quickly with them teasing the old folks instead. Unwittingly, they chance upon the pair of monsters and capture the younger one (Lin Pei Hsin), thus shifting the dynamics and turning the bullying towards the new capture instead. This redirection gives Shu Wei much needed reprieve, though he struggles to maintain his guise as a tormentor to save his own skin.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters is unrelenting in its torture. The foursome gang have no qualms and conscience as they toy with everyone in their path. From teasing hungry elderly with food just out of reach, to bouncing sunlight on the captive to see her skin sizzle, there’s a cruelty that’s not dissimilar to kids watching insects burn under a focused beam from a magnifying glass. On one hand, one might label it curiousity, but on the other… we know better.
Things escalate when Ren Hao feeds his mantra-chanting Buddhist teacher some of the monster’s blood, to avenge her callous judgemental remark on his family. What follows is plenty of dark internal bleeding coming loose at a local school basketball game, and some spontaneous combustion, captured by laughing students.
Ko is clearly redrawing the lines here. Neglecting and choosing to ignore the injustices that happen around us, Ko makes us the monsters, as we trample on others in accordance to our pecking order. We become Shu Wei, who despite good intentions and moral teachings, gets all of our empathy and compassion beaten out in favour of survival.
Things get upended when the elder sibling (Eugenie Liu) of the creature seeks her missing sister, and tears through the body count with scenes not dissimilar to some from Japanese cinema. Realism aside, the school bus and classroom massacre will certainly paint the town red.
Certainly Mon Mon Mon Monsters is a stylish outing, if a little overwrought at times. Some parts of the script seem redundant and will benefit from trimming. The struggle for protaganist Shu Wei is also a little unconvincing at times. But Ko’s little glimmers of humour (such as the heart shaped mirror reflection on Shu Wei’s face, or keeping the monster at bay by bouncing sunlight off a picture of Sun Yat Sen), as well as decent performances from the young cast keeps the nihilistic story afloat. With no character to really root for, the ending when Shu Wei clearly sees where humanity’s hope now lies, is a brutal punch to the gut not many might be able to stomach.
Intense, pessimistic and nihilistic, Ko’s shift in gear is certainly unrestrained. There’s plenty of gore, more than its fair share of abusive behaviour, and the clear message it sends early on is certainly fitting for these times.
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