“A must-see for Asian Cinema fans.”

by Nav Qateel

Ik-Sang is tasked by his boss to pay off a blackmailer who holds a cellphone containing an incriminating video. Instead, Ik-Sang asks his extremely violent younger brother Tae-Soo to get the phone for him, allowing Ik-Sang to use the money to pay off a gambling debt. Before he can find the cellphone, Tae-Soo strangles the blackmailer in front of her kid sister Na-Ri. The girl gets away from Tae-Soo with the help of Bok-Soon, a young woman with the mind of a child. Now both girls are running for their lives.

Hwang In-Ho’s Monster opens up on Bok-Soon working at her vegetable stall; the same street stall she’s worked on with her now deceased grandmother since she was eight years old. The girl isn’t playing with a full deck, due to her mother dropping Bok-Soon on her head as a baby. While she’s taking a nap behind her veggie stall we become privy to her dream. Bok-Soon’s dead grandmother is telling her to stay out of school and work hard to support her younger sister. She also tells Bok-Soon to sing their little song titled “Crazy Bitch” when she misses her granny. “Worm’s ribs and virgin balls? That’s crazy bitch” goes the intro. The problem is, Bok-Soon has no right to the stall now that her granny’s dead, and the owner has to bodily throw her off the pitch. For his trouble he comes under attack as Bok-Soon assaults him with a turnip. (See trailer below)

Going back several years, two neglected young boys are in the dark attic of their family home. The bloody and beaten Ik-Sang appears to be around 12 years old and the cowering boy is the older of the two. The younger Tae-Soo asks Ik-Sang if he was beaten by the “monster” again? The monster he’s referring to is their brutish heavy-handed father. The young, and far from innocent, Tae-Soo makes Ik-Sang an offer. If he kills their father will Ik-Sang play with him? Shortly, the axe-wielding father dies while he’s trying to reach Ik-Sang and now a happy Tae-Soo has someone to play with. A real monster with mother issues is born.

Directed by
Hwang In-Ho
Lee Min-Ki, Kim Go-Eun, Ahn Seo-Hyun, Kim Roe-Ha
Release Date
14 March 2014
Nav’s Grade: B

Hwang In-Ho’s action-thriller Monster may well suffer from an identity crisis, but when it focuses on lead man Lee Min-Ki’s character Tae-Soo, one can forgive the quirky nature of the story. What could seem odd in a thriller featuring such a well-defined character like the psychopathic Tae-Soo, is the comedic turn brought in by the hot-headed “psycho bitch” Bok-Soon. However, rather than appearing mismatched or uneven, these two strong, polar characters actually compliment one another.

The foreshadowing of a young Tae-Soo murdering his father for beating up big brother Ik-Sang, was a good indicator of his mindset. It soon becomes clear that Tae-Soo’s motivation for patricide was less about revenge for Ik-Sang, than about just wanting someone to play with. When we catch up with the grown up Tae-Soo, he’s meeting Ik-Sang at a bar. Ik-Sang wants a favor from his little brother but Tae-Soo complains he hasn’t heard from him in 5 years. Moreover, Ik-Sang has changed his phone number several times without telling Tae-Soo. A man is making a lot of noise at a nearby table, which is irritating Ik-Sang. When Ik-Sang grumbles about the noisy man, Tae-Soo rapidly and efficiently murders the bothersome bar patron, obviously thinking he’s helping his big brother. Now we know why Ik-Sang is avoiding Tae-Soo. He’s terrified of his little brother.

Lee Min-Ki plays psycho-killer Tae-Soo very effectively, with Monster being the second film the actor has starred in for director Hwang In-Ho–the first was Hwang’s debut feature Spellbound. Having such a rich background for the Tae-Soo character helped the audience accept Lee’s portrayal as more authentic. Although we do see Tae-Soo sometimes kill people pretty easily, he faces some very tough opponents, calling for Lee to get physical, resulting in some fast-moving, bone-crunching fight scenes. Whenever Tae-Soo meets with his brother he always asks after their mother, but it’s clear their mother wants nothing to do with him. Was it because he murdered her husband? It’s doubtful. As Monster progresses we learn this woman was just as guilty as the abusive father, but her neglect and cruelty, while more subtle, continues to effect the grown up Tae-Soo. Tae-Soo wants his mother’s affection at any cost, but she appears to be incapable of giving it. Lee has been performing as a lead character in various TV shows and movies since 2005, but is perhaps best known for his role in the 2009 box office hit Haeundae.

Actress Kim Go-Eun plays the quick-to-anger Bok-Soon, or, “The Girl With the Uncontrollable Rage.” Kim Go-Eun gave a brilliant performance as the mentally challenged girl, in what is only her second ever role. For her debut in the 2011 movie Eungyo Kim won no less than four different awards in the Best New Actress category, including a Grand Bell (Daejong) Film Award. Kim really committed to the role of Bok-Soon, and what I loved most about her performance was this matter-of-fact attitude she had while playing the character. Kim even managed to adopt this look, that, without even speaking or moving, convinced you of her disability.

Hwang In-Ho is a director-screenwriter to keep an eye out for, and his fantastic style makes him the ideal candidate to be tapped by Hollywood. His slightly off-kilter characters may not be to everyone’s liking, however Asian Cinema aficionados will appreciate this type of filmmaking. Hwang In-Ho has the potential to one day stand beside giants like Takashi Miike and Park Wook-Chan. Monster is beautifully shot with some great performances by an interesting cast, but it does lack in certain areas, with pacing being the main offender. It’s perhaps less suitable for casual audiences but a must-see for Asian Cinema fans.

You can find more info about the film here.