Starring: Lee Min Ki, Kim Go Eun, Kim Roi Ha, Ahn Seo Hyeon, Kim Boo Seon.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Synopsis: A mentally slow girl tries to take find the suspected murderer of her missing sister.
South Korea have given us more fantastic revenge thrillers than you can shake a bloody stick at. I SAW THE DEVIL, OLDBOY, BEDEVILLED, THE CHASER, the list goes on and on. That being said, is there really anywhere new to go with the genre? Can it possibly be any more shocking and interesting than what we’ve already come up against? The answer is a surprising ‘yes’, as this latest effort proves in abundance.
If you’ve ever sat down and become angry at the ridiculous decisions made by characters in peril, then MONSTER has a new twist to offer, with its two main characters – caught in a game of cat and mouse – mentally slow and unbalanced. Bok Soon (Kim Go Eun) finds it hard to understand the world around her. She can’t decipher the difference between mistakes and lies, nor can she understand the concept of a landlord after her deceased grandmother tells her the land where she sells her vegetables is hers. Such failure to understand is often played for laughs, before descending into tragic sympathy. Throughout the film, Bok Soon does unfathomable things because that’s all she knows. When searching for a lost friend she simply gets out of a taxi and starts asking people on the street if they know where her friend is.
Meanwhile, there’s the very dangerous Tae Soo (Lee Min Ki) who solves many of his problems through violence; murdering all the customers at a bar is the natural response to someone being rude. Like Bok Soon, he sees the world in a different way, leading him down a path of pure evil after a simple request from his manipulative stepbrother (Kim Roi Ha) spirals into a vicious series of violent attacks. Tae Soo pursues a young witness to one of his murders, which leads him to cross paths with Bok Soon’s younger sister and from there we follow Bok Soon’s tale of revenge.
As the characters don’t think in the same way your average person would, the film is filled with massive surprises. Tae Soo’s rampages end just as quickly and randomly as they begin, with Bok Soon’s methods often making little sense. This offers a sense of freshness to the familiar drama, but also creates mental blocks for viewers. It is hard to believe, but that’s because our brains aren’t wired the same way. It’s tragic, funny and infuriating – three things any honest person with experience of those with mental disabilities will testify to having felt at one point or another. It does mean that patience is required by the audience, with all the characters of ‘sound mind’ being atrocious and selfish. There’s no entry point for the viewer in this epic tale told through a skewed perspective.
Hwang In Ho directs the violence and action with expert visual flair, but also sees how far he can push the tone in different directions. As she searches for her sister, Bok Soon’s journey is played out like a lighthearted adventure film, with bright green fields reminiscent of the beginning of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. The soundtrack also appears to utilise accordions at points, resulting in a warming throwback to AMELIE. Naysayers may be put off by switches in tone, unfathomable decisions and bizarre moments such as a Teletubby dream sequence, but every one of these faults is intentional to try and represent the chaotic world of our protagonists’ minds. As unpredictable, unrelenting and unkind as a revenge thriller needs to be, MONSTER is destined to develop a cult following over the years and is fully deserving of that.
[usr=4] MONSTER is released in select US cinemas on Friday 14th March, 2014.