Directed by Jong-ho Huh
Written by Jeong-uk Byeon (story), Heo-dam (story/screenplay), Jong-ho Huh (screenplay)
Starring Myung-Min Kim, In-kwon Kim, Hyeri Lee, Woo-sik Choi, Sung-woong Park, Hee-soon Park, Kyeong-yeong Lee, Kyu-bok Lee,
Socially relevant, edge of your seat exciting, and powerfully executed, MONSTRUM combines elements of action, adventure, political intrigue, comedy, kung fu, and the classic creature feature to make one all-around marvelous film.
Myung-Min Kim (who plays a very similar type of character in DETECTIVE K: SECTRETS OF THE LIVING DEAD) plays Yoon Gyeom, a former general in the King’s army who has since chosen to live the simple life with his sidekick and brother in arms Sung Han (In-kwon Kim) and his daughter Myung (Hyeri Lee). When a monster is reported to be rampaging on the outskirts of the kingdom, the King sends for his best man (Yoon) to take on the beast, but is there a beast at all or is the monster all some kind of ruse the hierarchy has come up with to keep the peasants in their place?
At face value, MONSTRUM is a thrilling rollercoaster reminiscent of KING KONG and the best Indiana Jones installments. It takes a group of likable warriors and puts them in the middle of a high stakes adventure. There’s intrigue. There’s action. A hint of romance. Comedy. MONSTRUM has all the ingredients of a blockbuster style actioner. Director Jong-ho Huh orchestrates the mayhem with a skilled hand. There are fantastic action sequences of sword battles where the camera follows the action from one fight to another in an uncut, ballistically breakneck fashion that reminded me of the church sequence in THE KINGSMEN: THE SECRET SERVICE—you know the scene I’m talking about. The one where the camera impossibly moves through one action that leads to another and another and so on. The action is also filled with heart, forcing the viewer to be invested in all of the happenings because you just don’t want any of these great characters to perish. Many age-old character tropes are present in this group of heroes such as the tired warrior seeking the quiet life, the boisterous but bumbling sidekick, the girl who is almost as skilled as her father but held back because she is a girl, and the boy who can’t beat her in battle but can steal her heart. But none of these characters feel stale. They’re all presented in thrilling and fun ways that remind me of the classic adventure romps of the 80’s. The bombastic climax delivers a showstopper that is bound to have people cheering when they see how the heroes make it through all of that peril.
But go a bit deeper and one can’t help but see the similarities this film has with our current political crises as the film delves deep in the diabolical machinations of a government who only thinks of itself and not its people. In MONSTRUM, a plague hits the city and the government is more worried about how the people are getting out of line than actually tracking down the monster supposedly spreading the plague. It’s not that great of a leap to compare it current day politics, where those in power have their petty battles while the common folk are forced to suffer in their wake. One might compare the maelstrom that swirls around the Monstrum Plague to the VietNam War, Persian Gulf, Trump’s Russia scandal, the Covid Crisis, and any other instance where the government used a crisis to manipulate the common man. There’s a poetic and resonant scene in the film where the would-be king comes face to face with his “monster” and he shouts “But I created you!” right before the monster makes him a smear on the concrete. While MONSTRUM can be enjoyed without looking at it through a political lens, I think it enriches the viewing experience to acknowledge these most obvious nods to current political and societal subjects.
While I guess this might be considered a spoiler, the beast in MONSTRUM is clearly identified in the trailer and poster. Monstrum is a real, live monster. And while there might be a moment or two that the CG effects slip here or there, the beast is still wonderfully rendered and absolutely ferocious. Part gorilla, part wolf, all giant monster, Monstrum is a memorable, sometimes sympathetic, but nevertheless menacing beast when it goes on its rampage in the final act. More than once, this film felt like South Korea’s answer to King Kong as the Monstrum tears his way through the palace and ascends to the top of the tower during the thunderous climax. Seeing this monster shred and slice its way through scores of armed guards and soldiers is gloriously gory and titanic-ally terrifying.
I laughed and gasped more than I could count in MONSTRUM. It’s a marvelous, old school adventure quest with likable characters, fantastic set pieces, and resonant themes. While the film runs a bit long and I’d have shaved off maybe fifteen minutes from the extended climactic battle, MONSTRUM nevertheless is an iconic and modern classic film that is sure to bring a smile to the faces of creature feature fanatics and high adventure addicts alike.