Hey, kids! It's time for another DVD Talk pop quiz.
(1) Can you find the monster in the screenshot above?
The girl on the left
By pretty much any measure, flesh-eating ghouls with a maw of rapidly regenerating fangs and a well-deserved aversion to sunlight would have to qualify as monsters. And yet despite the whole devouring people while they're still alive deal, the two voodoo-spawned sisters are among the most sympathetic characters in this Taiwanese horror/comedy/drama. The presumed elder of the two gently tucks her sister in at night. She makes sure that her sissy gets to munch on all the choice human vittle parts first. When the two of them are separated, she stops at nothing to rescue her kid sister from the
And hey, that's probably why writer, producer, and director Giddens Ko embraced the title Mon Mon Mon Monsters!, exclamation point and all. With just a couple of infrequently seen exceptions – say, a bullied classmate who's an outsider in the most literal sense – pretty much everyone in the flick is noxious. Ms. Lee (Carolyn Chen) knows full well that awkward, goody-little-two-shoes Lin Shu-wei (Deng Yu-kai) didn't steal the class funds, but she allows him to be humiliated anyway because he should make a greater effort to be part of the group. Tuan Ren-hao (Kent Tsai) savagely beats another kid with a broken desk in the middle of class, and Ms. Lee basically shrugs it off as boys will be boys until he starts to ridicule her faith.
Ren-hao and his gang – which, thanks to Ms. Lee, now includes a reluctant Shu-wei – steal a safe from a catatonic veteran in the dead of night. They hope to find a big mess of gold bars. Instead, all they have to show for their troubles is a ghoul that's practically roadkill. They chain up this poor creature, whose whimpers far more closely resemble a scared little girl than a carnivorous monstrosity. They exploit her weakness to sunlight, searing her skin just for kicks. They're curious to see how quickly her fangs will regenerate, ripping them out one by one with a heated set of pliers and – why not? – making a charm bracelet from her teeth. They collect her dark, viscous blood for further experimentation. And when the crew wants to make sure she doesn't get too loud or bitey, they screw a metal plate over her mouth.
Big Sis is on the warpath, slaughtering dozens of Ren-hao and Shu-wei's classmates on her way to recovering her beloved. Shu-wei wants to free this sad little thing, but if she doesn't kill him afterwards, that psychopath Ren-hao and company surely will. Hell, they might steer him to an excruciatingly painful end anyway just for a laugh.
There are a couple of unmistakeable messages doled out here. The first is that the definition of "monster" is relative. The two nightmarish creatures are compelled by primal instincts, killing out of necessity – to feed, for protection – which puts them one-up over some of the more perceptibly human characters on the bill. The horrors Ren-hao and company unleash are cruel in a way these ghouls at their worst can't hope to match. The second is that the capacity for that sort of darkness lurks within practically everyone, and it's just a matter of when it claws its way out towards the world at large. And that's because monsters are made, not born, whether it's from abuse, neglect, peer pressure, a lack of consequences, or black magic hoodoo. In the words of the Bard, all it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters! is daring enough that its moral of "we're all monsters" extends to Shu-wei. He's our point of view character, yes, and he takes no pleasure in the torture inflicted on the ghoul they've kidnapped. Still, the lengths he's willing to take for self-preservation are worlds removed from anything he would ever have dreamt possible. Shu-wei is so transformed by this ordeal – a perpetual fear of being murdered by his "friends", the endless torture and bloodshed around him – that he soon takes his frustrations out on the most innocent of people who can't possibly deserve it. Protagonist: yes. Hero: no. And, of course, Shu-wei is all too aware of the difference.
And while subtlety may not exactly be its strong suit, Mon Mon Mon Monsters! is executed remarkably well. The creature designs and barrel drums of splatter put the "gore" in "gorgeous". They may be vampires on paper, but there are elements of these ghouls that seem almost otherworldly rather than just another couple off-the-shelf fanged bloodsuckers. The film is exceptionally well cast: the venom that seethes from Ms. Lee, Ren-hao somehow remaining charming and charismatic despite the whole sociopath thing, Shu-wei's evolution/de-evolution beyond the meek kid we first meet, and a pair of flesh-eating ghouls we as the audience don't just sympathize with but actively root for. I appreciate some of the juxtaposed imagery, such as...oh, watermelon juice and geysers of blood, or the ways in which these ghouls can feed not being as far removed from us human types as we might like to think. Its sense of humor often isn't really my thing – although if you can't get enough of farts, you sure are in for a treat! – but I'm a sucker for the sorts of strange and surreal moments that Mon Mon Mon Monsters! revels in, as well as how Ren-hao's cruelty is taken to such absurdly comic extremes.
It'd be a struggle in the best of hands to balance the visceral demands of a creature feature with an indictment of the overly permissive ways in which children are raised these days. Mon Mon Mon Monsters! strikes it astonishingly well. I'll confess to being caught off-guard that I found myself more invested in character-driven moments than in buckets of the red stuff being sloshed around, and that's saying something, considering the phenomenal realization of these ghouls. Honestly, its primary misstep is just that there isn't enough here to justify a nearly two hour runtime. Even with as thematically flawless as Mon Mon Mon Monsters!'s epilogue is, I still heard a nagging voice in the back of my head groaning about what a slog it was. But still, I'm very impressed with the film overall, and those sharing my passion for off-beat creature features – especially horror flicks that weave in social commentary – will surely find Mon Mon Mon Monsters! to be well-worth seeking out. Recommended.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters! dazzles on Blu-ray, thanks to glossy production values, slick digital photography, and the seasoned eyes of cinematographer Patrick Chou and director Giddens Ko. The scope image is consistently crisp and practically overflowing with detail. With certain monsters plagued with a fatal allergy to sunlight, the image deftly alternates between sequences that are bright and vivid to moments about as dark and dank as they come. Mon Mon Mon Monsters! remains a knockout in both of those extremes, aided in no small part by robust shadow detail. Case in point...?
The authoring of this Blu-ray release leaves little room for complaint as well. There was one brief moment where I thought the compression didn't look quite right, and when capturing screenshots for this review, I did see artifacts in the shadows – in still images after fiddling with luminosity curves. We're not exactly talking about a normal (or even remotely sane) viewing experience, though, so there's nothing worth sweating there. Thoroughly impressive all around.
Mon Mon Mon Monsters! swoops in for the kill on a BD-25 disc at its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1.
Don't panic when you see lossy audio listed on the disc's menus; Mon Mon Mon Monsters! does indeed get the 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio treatment. I'll admit to being surprised to find that both the original Mandarin audio and the English dub are in plain-jane stereo in this day and age, especially after spotting that Dolby Atmos logo near the tail-end of the credits.
For this review, I watched Mon Mon Mon Monsters! in its entirety in Chinese, and then I sampled a few minutes of the dub. If you're wondering why I didn't bother experiencing more of the film in English, then, well, give this comparison I recorded a whirl:
The English dub is...ooof. Line readings sound stilted and unnatural, and, at least in that comparison, dynamic range is also more limited. Note how much more forceful Shu-wei's yell is in Chinese than in the dub.
The whole stereo thing is a drag, sure, but the Mandarin track upmixes well if you have a Neural:X-capable rig. Despite not having a dedicated LFE channel, bass response packs a hell of a wallop, particularly the pounding electronic percussion during the, uh, elderly torture montage. The film's dialogue is consistently rendered cleanly and clearly. And being such a recent production, it ought to go without saying that there aren't any overt flaws to get in the way: no intrusive background noise, hiss, pops, clicks, dropouts, or whatever else is on the usual laundry list.
I would say that I don't have any major complaints about the Mandarin track, but it's tough to know that at least some theaters screened Mon Mon Mon Monsters! with immersive audio and yet be limited to straightahead stereo on Blu-ray. I've tried to find some middle ground with the score in the sidebar, acknowledging its strengths and whatever's going on with the stereo-only deal.
Also included are subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. There's only one set of English subs, and you're out of luck if you ordinarily rely on the SDH end of the equation. They're very close to dubtitles, but maybe that says more about the dub itself than anything else. There are occasional differences between the dub and the subs – Sui-wei is nicknamed "titty-lover" in the English dub but comes up as "boobies-lover" in the subtitles, and some background characters will speak in English without captions to match – but they're overwhelmingly identical otherwise.
Tucked inside the case is a code for a free 30 day trial of Shudder. Aside from that, though...? Nothing.
The Final Word
Come for the feral vampires; stay for the social commentary that reminds us that we're all one bad day away from becoming monsters ourselves. And hey, thanks, RLJE Films: no importing or online subscription services required. Recommended.