Monstrum (2018) Movie Review
Dam Heo and Jong-ho Heo
As I’m sure you all know, this past Friday, May 15th was Bike To Work Day. Though if you don’t have a car, every day is bike to work day. Unless you don’t have any legs, then it’s duck walk or soldier crawl to work day. Either way, you all know the time-honored tradition of watching a Korean monster movie after you come home from Bike To Work Day.
That tradition has been in my family for over 7 generations.
It just so happens that this is a review of a Korean monster/horror/fantasy/thriller so we can enact these traditions even in quarantine.
Before he went to jail, my uncle said another “tradition” was to go out back to the shed with me and my sister to---
Maybe right now’s not the time to share that tradition in regard to your incarcerated uncle. Who knew you could hold so many gigabytes of children’s pictures on one hard drive?
Before the review, we must warn some of our more sensitive white viewers that Monstrum is Korean and therefore, unless you speak Korean, you’ll have to read subtitles. I know some of you whined like b*tches because you had to wait weeks to get a haircut. I’d be worried you’d shoot up a theater in protest only there aren’t any open.
I hate this movie already. Why can’t they just speak American?
Because as I previously mentioned, this is a Korean movie. But there are subtitles…that you’ll have to read. A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the Finnish movie Dogs Don’t Wear Pants and you had to read the words on the bottom of the screen then. You’ll just have to do it again if you want to see Monstrum. It’s worth it.
Can somebody read the sub-turtles to me?
Sure. Someone can read the sub…titles to you if that’s a challenge.
Let’s just get to the review before someone’s brain explodes from reading too much.
Synopsis In ‘Murican
Monstrum opens with a statement that the movie we’re about to see is based on a true story.
Like Fargo is based on a true story.
We open somewhere in Korea around the 16th century.
Korea just crowned a new king, the honorable and bedazzled and handsome King Jungjong (Hee-Soon Park). Unfortunately, some of the other lords and especially the Prime Minister Sim Woon (Kyeong-Yeong Lee) seek to undermine the king to fulfill their own ambitions.
As if King Jungjong doesn’t have enough problems, there is a massive plague in and around Mount Inwangson and many citizens are dying. We see a little girl and her mother escaping to safety. We see an arrow go through the mother and the little girl is now an orphan.
We will send word from 2020 that plagues are a thing of the past and that no one will ever die from something like that again.
Forward to the near future. The plague is still present but somewhat subdued. King Jungjong maintains his tenuous hold on the kingdom. Besides the plague, there are whisperings of a monster that lives in the mountain by the name of Monstrum. Rumors abound that it kills beasts and humans. A good number of citizens are without livestock and are scrounging for food.
The Prime Minister will no doubt try to use that to his advantage.
We meet Yoon Gyeom (Myung-Min Kim) and his best friend/brother/heterosexual life partner/karaoke master Sung Han ( In-Kwon Kim). Yoon has a daughter Myung (Hyeri Lee) and they live solitary lives on the mountain, trying to farm and such. It’s clear they are no good at it. They are also some of the few Asian people not gushing over Crazy Rich Asians.
BTW- I’m Asian, and you have no f*cking idea how many white people randomly told me how much they enjoyed CRA, like I had something to do with that movie by virtue of being Asian. I’m not Chinese, though I don’t suppose it matters as I just fit into the “Generic Asian” stereotype.
I’ll continue with this review momentarily; I just have to finish my nurse training and then practice my violin before tutoring a white kid in math via Zoom.
Anyway, Yoon sees someone in a soldier’s uniform coming up the mountain.
His name is Heo (Wook-sik Choi, and if he looks familiar it’s because he was actually in Parasite and not just because all Asians look alike, Karen). He’s been sent by King Jungjong to ask Yoon and Sung to go back to the King’s service. Heo is also checking out Myung and trying to be subtle about it. He’s failing miserably.
Backstory- Yoon was one of Jungjong’s main generals but got into a falling out with the Prime Minister because he wouldn’t kill a baby girl suspected of being infected with the plague, you know, from the beginning of the movie. Yoon was banished so Jungjong could save face. That little girl grew up to be the non-plague-infected Myung.
Everybody caught up now?
The King begs Yoon to return to service because the citizenry is terrified of Monstrum. Yoon doesn’t believe it exists but will return to the Kingdom out of a sense of honor. Sung and Myung will tag along as well because Monstrum is just a construct that doesn’t really exist except to keep people in a state of fear like god or the Easter bunny.
But Yoon and Co will find out just how wrong they are.
Dead wrong. Because a lot of people will end up dead.
Just had to make that clear.
What Works With Monstrum
- Even before you see the monster, director Jong-Ho Huh ratchets up the tension and political intrigue so the audience’s nerves are frazzled well before the monster shows up. You don’t really expect this much attention to story during these types of movies, so it’s a nice surprise when it happens.
- Monstrum- It’s why you paid your ticket. Rather, it’s why you paid your monthly subscription. Monstrum is a wonderfully rendered monster. The special effects are seamless enough that you’re never taken out of the movie when Monstrum bites someone’s head off, looks into the camera and deadpans, “Korean food always upsets my stomach.”
What Doesn’t Work With Monstrum
- This may be a cultural thing, but Monstrum’s attempts at humor fall flat. They never threaten to derail the movie, but more often than not you wonder if what you just saw was meant to be funny. It was. But you didn’t laugh. Maybe the jokes killed in Korea. You’ll never know.
- My spellcheck after writing all these Korean names. Way to be racist.
Martial arts and monsters. Monstrum delivers on all fronts and gives you another option when you’re tired of watching Scooby Doo.