Giddens Ko’s You Are the Apple of My Eyeremains one of the best films I’ve seen at the New York Asian Film Festival. Café. Waiting. Love, which he wrote but did not direct, is another film I enjoyed immensely. So when I saw Ko’s name on the film list at this year’s fest for a movie called “Mon Mon Mon Monsters,” I was exceedingly excited. YAtAoME and CWL are both zany romantic comedies, and I was expecting more of the same, both because and in spite of the name: Mon Mon Mon Monsters sounds like a horror thing… but it’s silly, right? Fortunately, programmer Sam Jamier preceded the film with a warning: This was not like his previous work. This film was “mean.”
I rather agree.
It’s an interesting way to describe a movie, one that I use rarely. To be “mean” is to be relentless, to spiral into the evils of its world and its characters not because it has to but because it can. The cruelty doesn’t feel narratively inevitable or dramatically earned. To genuinely succeed, a film needs to transcend its cruelty. I can think of only one. Mon Mon Mon Monsters is not it (Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil is). It begs the question that films have been asking for a long time: “Who are the real monsters?” Are they the actual monsters who crawl on the walls and eat people, or are they the high schoolers who bully their peers and then torture monsters just because it’s fun? I think you know the answer, and to make the point, the film goes hard. It’s exhausting, really, but it’s undeniably well made. Giddens Ko continues to prove that he is a very good technical filmmaker, and that he was able to make a film so radically unlike his previous work speaks well to his future.
If you like the idea of a mean movie about high schoolers torturing people, then you will probably “enjoy” (if that’s the right word (it’s not)) this. If you don’t, Mon Mon Mon Monsters certainly won’t convince you of that concept’s merits.