Monstrum (2018)

OCTOBER 22, 2020


It's a shame that The Great Wall was overshadowed by people complaining about Matt Damon starring in it, claiming the role should have gone to an Asian actor (if they bothered to wait and see the movie first, they'd know the film's plot was about an outsider the rest of the cast didn't trust, so it was kind of the point), because it was actually rather enjoyable save for the dodgy FX. Luckily for everyone, Monstrum hits a number of the same "action + monster in a historical setting" beats but without Jason Bourne or any other white guy around to bother them, and hey, the monster looks better too! Everyone wins. Except Matt Damon, I guess, poor sod.

It's one of those movies that makes me glad I ponied up for a Shudder sub a while back, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish I saw it at the CGV Cinema here in LA if if played there. And it'd be weird if it didn't, since it was a big budget Korean film that has been their bread and butter for as long as I've attended (they also throw in some American films with Korean subs), which means I need to pay more attention to its listings once theaters are safe again. I was thinking the monster was something lion-sized, but it was a proper giant monster that could swallow a man whole and swat away a few of them with one paw, i.e. the sort of thing that would not only be better represented on a similarly oversized screen, but also benefit from a crowd cheering as it wiped out some of the traitorous jerks that tried to murder our heroes.

Perhaps I was thinking "lion" because it actually shared some similarities to Brotherhood of the Wolf? The plot is about a monster that's eating people in the countryside, but it's actually a more complicated issue involving political machinations, not unlike that underrated 2001 film. Weirdly (though this may be a translation error, or just me missing a line somewhere), the plot is seemingly about a conniving cabinet member who is trying to overthrow their king and take the throne for himself, who "invents" the Monstrum story as a distraction for his own murderous shenanigans, and for a while you're legit unsure if there really is a monster or not. But there is, so... he made up a story and it turned out to be true? It's a bit odd.

But who cares? Giant monster! The big guy makes his grand entrance around the 40-45 minute mark, inadvertently saving our heroes from the bad guy's henchmen. The film actually gives us a pretty even mix of giant monster action and normal martial arts/swordplay stuff between the two warring factions, and sometimes we get both at once! Not all of the FX work is top notch, but it's mostly pretty good, and they seem to have some kind of practical element for a few closeups, so no harm no foul. And it stays the same size! So many CGI creatures seem to change size depending on the scene, but it's pretty consistent to my eyes.

It also gives us a solid group to care for. Our hero (Kim Myung-min) is a former guard who was exiled for saving a child from execution (her mother and everyone else around was believed to be carrying the plague), called back into action because he was the best the king ever knew and also knew he could be trusted, and he is joined by his now grown "daughter" and his right hand man (he refers to him as brother but I think it's honorary?). This information is given to us via flashback; when we meet the trio they are barely surviving due to the men being unable to hunt properly, leading the girl to think they're just incompetent - she actually laughs when someone comes to call them into action again. The look on her face when she discovers that they really are pretty capable fighters is a great moment, and they continue to impress throughout (there's a silent neck break moment near the end that's way more badass than anything John Wick did in his last adventure). And Parasite's Choi Woo-shik is fun as a page who accompanies them, due in part to his crush on the daughter. But that stuff never really takes center stage, thankfully; I was dreading an Armageddon style ending where Kim's character sacrifices himself so the two young lovers would be able to live happily ever after, but no - they stay focused on the main plot.

The only thing I didn't like were its occasional video game-esque fight scenes, where the camera zooms in and out of the action and pans around to showcase a different fighter without cutting. It honestly just looks like those canned animations you get in games like Arkham City or Assassin's Creed, where if you pull off a proper combo it gives you a more cinematic animation before returning to the gameplay, except far less engaging because it's a movie, not a game. The only good thing about those in games is a quick break from having to worry about being hit since you'll be invulnerable for the second or two - it's otherwise just distracting, and that's all it is here. I'm sure the actors are capable fighters (or at least, the anonymous stunt guys they're fighting are) but these moments make them look like cartoons. Also not a fan of the strobe-y slo-mo during a few of the attacks, but they are thankfully quick.

I've said on many occasions that Korean films tend to be more in line with my sensibilities than other countries with healthy genre output (certainly when compared to other Asian countries, at least), and this is no exception. It's nothing I'd need to watch a million times, but it's a solid adventure with a great monster, likable and interesting characters, and a genuine plot that kept me intrigued in between the carnage. What more can I ask, besides the director not making it look like a PS3 cutscene on occasion? Not much!

What say you?


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget