After having heard great things and read raving reviews of Mon Mon Mon Monsters ever since it hit festival and local theatres back in 2017, I couldn’t wait for this film to get a wide release, which eventually happened through Amazon Prime and Shudder.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters, which features an amazingly quirky title, is a Taiwanese film marketed as a horror-comedy. Don’t let labels fool you, though, since this is not a comedy in the traditional sense; it’s more of a “grabbing-the-boobs-of-a-disabled-old-woman-and-taking-a-selfie” kind of comedy. In other words, the comedic moments here have their roots in the ballistic nonsense of certain Asian horror cinema.
However, do not dismiss this film if what you read so far puts you off (or if you are not a big fan of subtitled movies) because Mon Mon Mon Monsters is a monstrous blast, a fantastically off-beat, dark and gruesome horror flick that most definitely deserves more attention.
After an opening scene where the viewer witnesses two man-eating monsters ripping a homeless dude apart, the story switches focus to a group of high-schoolers: they’re mean to each other, violent with other people and show an extreme tendency to psychopathic behaviour. After a while, these characters come across one of the two monsters and, upon defending themselves from its attacks, they kidnap it and start to entail increasingly brutal tortures against the creature.
As I already said, this film is quite great. Firstly, because it subverts expectations and turns around the way you expect a movie like this to unfold. In fact, during the first 86 minutes (Mon Mon Mon Monsters has a 113-minute-long runtime), every sequence that you expect to be scary or disturbing is played for fun, whereas the more light-hearted scenes are developed in a very intense and unsettling way. For example, early on in the film, the main characters are sent to support homeless and dysfunctional old people, as part of their school program. However, they’re seen abusing these helpless people and making fun of them in a mean-spirited manner: these sequences are also competently crafted, as the camera-work appears to be inventive and the score is fantastic, relying on some unknown (to me) Taiwanese hard-rock songs.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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The fact that the audience spends most of their time with a bunch of unlikeable misfits could be a humongous flaw with Mon Mon Mon Monsters, but they’re so fleshed out and multifaceted that you see where they’re coming from, thus they don’t come off as annoying. Simply put, they’re assholes you can’t help but love to hate. Very much like Captain Spoulding and Otis (just to mention a widely known example like The Devil’s Rejects), these characters are charismatic and compelling to watch in all their ferocious cruelty.
Writer and director Giddens Ko, whose filmography is full of coming-of-age flicks revolving around dysfunctional teenagers, does a fantastic job – alongside the actors – to portray a damaged and dangerous youth, which adds an extra layer of uneasiness to this motion picture.
From a technical standpoint, other than two sequences that utilise excessively the shaky camera, Mon Mon Mon Monsters is simply mesmerising. Great editing and fantastic fast cuts are interchanged with single, long takes: during these sequences, we witness the greatness of Ko’s script. For example, the viewer watches two characters interacting in a quirky banter, which slowly and seamlessly becomes darker and darker, up to the point you are completely frozen and shocked by what’s going on in the film. In general, the way Mon Mon Mon Monsters manages different tones within the same story is unreal: dramatic and gut-wrenching sequences alternate with quirky, pitch-black comedic moments like it’s nothing.
Yet, as one might expect from Asian unconventional cinema, Mon Mon Mon Monsters is rather gruesome and gory. Without becoming too disturbing, the violence in the movie is quite well spread-out throughout the film, and never feels gratuitous. It certainly helps that the makeup department did wonders: from what I understand, this motion picture was made on a big budget (for Taiwanese standards: 270.000 dollars…), which definitely helped the production values to be outstanding. The CGI, other than one instance, here is integral and very well executed.
Before, I mentioned how the first 86 minutes of the movie serve to subvert the audience’s expectations. What happened in the remaining 27 minutes? Well, this already very good movie turns into a fantastic horror picture. And if you’re wondering why I’m being so specific with times, that’s because at the 87th minute of Mon Mon Mon Monsters the third act is introduced by a stupendously violent scene, an incredibly memorable outburst of awesomeness, violence, sadness all at once. I won’t spoil it for you, but just remember my words when you see a bus packed with students, with a perfectly fitting version of Frank Sinatra’s My Way playing in the background…
If you thought the aforementioned sequence was the highlight of the film, right after the bus scene there’s a similarly effective one that takes place in a school… goosebump-material! Yet, the very ending is so emotionally charged and well-executed (other than some not-so-good CGI) that I was unsure whether to cry, punch a wall or stand up and applaud.
Despite my overwhelming enthusiasm for Mon Mon Mon Monsters, this isn’t a perfect film: apart from the shortcomings I mentioned throughout this review, I think this movie could have benefitted from a 10-minute shorter runtime, since both the ending (which I loved anyway) and the second act (which I really liked anyway) drag a bit at points. Yet, the movie features two very silly and fake jump-scares that felt quite distractive and annoying. Also, during the final sequences, one character kind of explains the meaning of the film to a friend (thus, to us), a decision that feels quite disrespectful, since this isn’t a David Lynch’s movie and its meaning is rather easy to understand if you payed the bear minimum of attention to what happened on screen.
Nonetheless, Mon Mon Mon Monsters is a truly great motion picture that I’d recommend to anyone who’s got a tad bit of experience with Asian and subtitled horror flicks. This is a movie that you can enjoy on so many levels, due to its fast pace, enthralling story, great cinematography, satisfying gore and never-ending excitement. It’s also a somewhat disturbing look at a sick and scary youth, with a very powerful message (albeit quite an obvious one, already hinted at in the title) that needs to be witnessed. Do yourself a favour and join the crazy world of Mon Mon Mon Monsters.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters 8.5/10