The horror of bullying in many forms, as cannibalistic ghouls battle real monsters: a gang a deviant Taiwanese prep school kids.
Directed by Giddens Ko
Gung hey fat choi! Or… Happy Lunar New Year! In celebration of the Lunar New Year, I’m bringing to you a recent popular Taiwanese Horror Dark Comedy Guai Guai Guai Guaiwu! (Mon Mon Mon Monsters!)
Before I get too far along, I’ll need to state some things for our non-Chinese film fans: This film is a BROAD dark comedy. The acting is exaggerated and arch, much like a kung-fu flick. It’s a style that you have to get used to. This is not a film that is particularly subtle or underplayed. Giddens Ko puts his cards on the table and invites you to play along, and it is fun and engaging as a result.
I came across this film as a recommendation from our friend Luca Pincelli, editor of Horror World & Reviews, as this was his #2 horror film released last year. So, I figured I wanted to see what the fuss was about.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters (I will refer to the English moniker, and I’m glad they managed to keep the alliteration) opens with the introduction of a pair of young ghoul sisters (Lin Pei-Hsin and Eugenie Liu), who prey upon the homeless and destitute in a Taipei slum. They feast on the unwary and then return to hide in cardboard boxes in an abandoned elevator shaft of a squatter housing project.
We are then introduced to the plight of our young protagonist, Liu Shu-Wei (Deng Yu-Kai) a timid teenage boy who has been harassed, tormented and bullied by the charismatic and wicked Tuan Ren-Hau (Kent Tsai) and his gang of cronies at a Taipei prep school. Shu-Wei has been framed for stealing the class social funds, and the whole class turns on him, leaving him as an outcast destined to be shamed and harassed by the whole class.
Shu-Wei’s parents are absent from the story, and he has been left friendless as none of his peers would dare side with him, as they would get caught in the web of humiliation. The teachers have either turned a blind eye or are supportive of the mob mentality. In a misguided attempt by their instructor Ms. Li (Carolyn Chen), who has grown weary of the shenanigans, Shu-Wei is forced to do charitable work with the group of bullies.
Rather than embracing the task of helping the elderly tenants of a squatter tenement as they were instructed, the boys instead inflict their brand of abuse on the poor seniors, and in the process, they find what they believe to be a treasure chest in one of the resident’s apartment. When they sneak in to try and steal the chest, they are interrupted by the ghouls, feeding on one of the residents of the slum.
After the initial panicky encounter, the boys manage to subdue the younger of the two ghouls, and find that it displays supernatural regenerative powers and a lethal weakness to daylight. Naturally, the bullies turn their tactics on the little ghoul, and take her to their hideout where they taunt and experiment on the unfortunate creature. Shu-Wei, now not the primary target of the wrath of the gang, now has to check his ethics as the little ghoul almost certainly won’t survive the gang’s treatment.
Does he turn hero and risk becoming killed himself? Or does he play along? He does manage to discover that these two are likely the result of voodoo magic by the older sister, which backfired badly, turning them into mon mon monsters!
Ren-Hau begins to extend his plans beyond mere mischief, into something hugely criminal, and his sway upon his flock remains strong, including Shu-Wei, still held captive by Ren-Hau’s cult of personality.
Meanwhile, the older sister has discovered that somehow her sister has been abducted by students from their school. She slaughters her way through students in pursuit of her sibling, pointing towards an inevitable monster clash between her and Ren-Hau.
Mon Mon Monsters moves with incredible pace. Though large sections of the plot make no rational sense, the movie ropes you in and pulls you through. I liked Bonnie Liang’s cold portrayal of Ren-Hau’s girlfriend Wu Si-Hua, a cold dispassionate deep thinker. She’s a nasty cool customer, in the supporting role. Many of the other roles are rather unremarkable though. I found Carolyn Chen’s portrayal of Ms. Li as an overzealous Buddhist with a very narrow band of moral certitude as ham-handed, and frustrating. There may have been a subtext in her character that I was missing, but her actions were mystifying throughout.
Kent Tsai is a mesmerizing bully. He is manic and over-the-top, but he has some serious stage presence, and you are always aware of his presence no matter where he is in the frame. I suspect he will have a long and successful career in Taiwanese film, and potentially crossover potential into Hong Kong cinema, though I’m unclear as to whether there is much cross-pollination between the two film communities, this film did debut at the Hong Kong Film Festival.
I found myself wishing for Shu-Wei to snap out of his spell, and to fight back, but if this movie is about anything, it’s about the bully and victim relationship, and the myriad of ways to get out of that is usually futile. Deng plays a very good and believable victim, tortured not just by the gang, but by his own guilt. Much of the time you find yourself willing the sisters to rise up and join forces with Shu-Wei, but I will direct you back to the main premise of the film. And I found Lin Pei-Hsin’s portrayal of the little ghoul to be affecting and sad, even though most of her performance had her gagged and bound.
The movie is certainly stiff in parts. The themes of the film play out like a brass band coming down Main Street. The humor is, again, broad and includes a fair bit of potty humor. (Fart jokes!) On the positive side, the gore effects are terrific, and given what must be a fairly modest budget by Hollywood standards the effects are effective. In the end, I found that the movie really reeled me in, and I enjoyed it despite its myriad of surface flaws, and I think it’s because the movie really knows what it wanted to be at its core.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters is Unrated, but would certainly be rated R. It is available for streaming for free, with a Shudder Account, and is also available through Amazon if you don’t have Shudder.