Shu-wei is the constant target of savage bullying by a group of charismatic fellow students. A twist of fate has him spending the night with them doing community service at an assisted living facilty… and becoming friends. This friendship takes a turn when the group stumbles across and captures a flesh eating monster in the form of a young girl. In order to maintain his tenuous place in the group, Shu-wei joins in as they begin tormenting the creature. However…. she isn’t alone. Can they survive the creature’s sibling that is now hunting them?
Mon Mon Mon Monsters first appeared on my radar while scrolling through Shudder. More Chinese/Taiwanese horror has been making its way to streaming networks and, as a long time K- and J-horror fan, I have been going out of my way to watch as many films from other Asian and Pacific Island countries as possible. The trailer Shudder streamed made it seem like a horror comedy with an edge, but this trailer turned out to be somewhat misleading as the movie is in reality a dark examination of the cycle of bullying and the disconnect one develops from the suffering of others in order to alleviate their own. Even the name sounds more jokey than the twisted film it contains. There are a few laughs of the near slapstick and literal fart joke level, but the darkness reigns supreme in Mon Mon Mon Monster and the movie is all the better for it.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters is one of the most skillful interpretations of the “who is really the monster?” trope that I have ever seen in a horror film. There are very few people reading this that haven’t experienced bullying at some point, as well as perhaps engaged in bullying themselves in some form or another. Yet most portrayals of bullying have a strict victim/antagonist dichotomy, often with a saccharine message at the end, that ignores the reality of such situations: as long as there is someone to step on below you, you are not on the bottom. Bullying is more akin to something you “survive” than “overcome,” and Shu-wei’s actions, joining his oppressors, is all too real.
However, the movie follows an incredible trajectory to an unexpected outcome… of which I will be vague, because I love you dear reader and you deserve to watch this movie without spoilers. Mon Mon Mon Monsters follows Shu-wei to a very dark place, with an ending that is so beautiful, so bleak, and so biting in the most understandable way. Just when the movie seems to have achieved its climax, a fourth act begins and the screen turns a dark red tint that is as unsettling as it is gorgeous. It is an epilogue, if we could use the term for a film, that turns the whole movie on its head while bringing it together as one cohesive piece. When the movie ended I sat there stunned for a full 3 minutes, I counted. Then I picked up my phone and immediately Googled the writer/director, and was floored by what I discovered.
If you are like me, the Taiwanese film director Giddens Ko likely wasn’t on your radar. As a horror fan, this isn’t that surprising. Though he is an astoundingly prolific novelist and screenplay writer/director, Ko’s films before Mon Mon Mon Monsters are more in the territory of positive depictions of heart-warming coming of age tales than horror. Even Mon Mon Mon Monsters was originally envisioned as a found footage mockumentary, which accounts for how incongruous the name and much of the tone of the film feels in comparison to the allegorical horror of human brutality contained within.
The change came in 2014 after Ko was reported to have cheated on his long time girlfriend Hsiao-nei with television news personality Chou Ting-yu. At about the same time Beijing ordered his works removed from shelves in response to Ko shaving his head in support of the Hong Kong protests. Ko found himself slammed on all sides by negative press and his personal life opened to very intense public scrutiny. Thus, Mon Mon Mon Monsters became his outlet for rage, changing overnight into a hate letter. In a 2017 interview with Ko that took place at the 19th Udine Far East Film Festival, he had this to say about the film:
“I feel that I got all my anger and hate out through this film. I’ve been sadder and sadder for five years, but now I’m happy again, and I feel this has expressed in my work. I hope I don’t shoot a dark movie in the future.”
In an interview with FilmDoo, he commented: “Maybe millions of Taiwanese people hated me, so I wanted to shoot a horror movie to scare everybody, to express my hate.”
Through this lens, the film, with its smirking bullies and teachers turning a blind eye, takes on a deeper meaning. The sociopathic behavior feels more like a tendency society conditions in us. The monstrous bloodbath perpetrated by the enraged monster becomes a response to our collective broken humanity, with the shocking ending hate thrown back at the haters. On reflection, the only true tenderness and love ever depicted in the film is between the two monsters. Though nonverbal, the two creatures make very human sounds of pain, desperation, and rage; more so than the humans tormenting them. As the monster on the hunt slashes through group after group, hoping to find the culprits that kidnapped her companion, we the viewer are pulled into her anguish, and left questioning “what wouldn’t I do to save the one I love?”
Ko’s brilliant camerawork and use of both vibrant colors and bleak tones explore so many details left out of dialogue, for both the monsters and the humans. The scene that will be forever burned into my memory is when the monster on the hunt finally finds one of the group, Wu Shihua who is the girlfriend of the main antagonist Renhao. Amidst the bloodbath, the monster and Shihua stare each other down. Shihua is seemingly unaffected, casually chewing gum even as her schoolmates lay in pieces around her; the monster is overcome with grief and rage as she discovers Shihua is wearing a necklace of her companions teeth. The gore of the scene conflicts with this calm moment, and the juxtaposition between monster and human is so masterful as to leave the viewer confused and having to contend with conflicting feelings. Humans are to be protected and monsters are to be hunted and killed, right? However, by the time the climax comes it is impossible to not root for the two monsters reuniting and ultimately overcoming their opposition.
Though I wish no further strife on Ko that would bring him to a place dark enough to create another film like Mon Mon Mon Monsters, I am sad that he has no intent to create further horror films. He is a master at exploring the shadowy recesses of human existence with a nuanced and earnest eye. Do yourself a favor and check out this gem of a film!
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