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Ko - production in Busan
  • In Focus: Monster
  • by SONG Soon-jin /  Mar 24, 2014
    Directed by HWANG In-ho
    Starring LEE Min-ki, KIM Go-eun
    Release Date March 13, 2014
    Filmmaker HWANG In-ho, who presented an impressive combination of horror and romantic comedy in his 2011 film Spellbound, returns with Monster. But this time he intends to surprise audiences with an approach rarely touched upon in Korean commercial filmmaking by mixing thriller with comedy.

    Ik-sang, played by KIM Roi-ha, suddenly appears in front of his younger brother Tae-soo (LEE Min-ki) to ask him to steal someone’s cell phone for their cousin JEON (played by NAM Gyeong-eup). Tae-soo, a merciless murderer who lives alone in a deserted forest, decides to do this favor for his long-lost brother. Unfortunately, Tae-soo ends up committing murder instead of finding the phone as well as taking Na-ri (AHN Seo-hyun), as a witness home with him. Tae-soo proposes a game to the young girl Na-ri, who has become his hostage, that gives her an opportunity to escape. Na-ri barely makes it to the house of Bok-soon (KIM Go-eun), a vendor at a local market. One day, Tae-soo ventures down to the village in search of Na-ri and kills Bok-soon’s younger sister Eun-jeong (KIM Bo-ra). Bok-soon, who witnesses her sister’s death, vows to get her revenge. 
    The director presented the film as “a character drama” due to its depiction of family and life through the heartless murderer Tae-soo and his archrival, the tough country girl Bok-soon. Tae-soo’s exceptionally violent nature has forced his family to repeat a cycle of abandonment. But it was his family’s opportunistic attitude to exploit Tae-soo despite their disgust towards him that only aggravated the loneliness and monstrosity within him. The film applies thriller genre conventions to the emotional journey of Tae-soo’s past and present. On the other hand, the slightly ‘slow’ but independent and aggressive Bok-soon is depicted through fantasy and comedy. Bok-soon, who fights tooth-and-nail to take care of her family, finds the courage to go on following an apparition of her deceased grandmother. Her inner world is endlessly pure and merry. “Monster may be a thriller, but it spends a lot of time on Tae-soo and Bok-soon. I made an effort to express the emotions, alienation and loneliness the main characters were experiencing. It was their emotions rather than the situations I wanted to explore,” states the director.
    And it is the energy that explodes from the collision of their totally opposite worlds that makes the film interesting. Nonetheless, whether the thriller aspect of Tae-soo and comedy aspect of Bok-soon are as well combined as they were in the filmmaker’s previous work Spellbound leaves room for further discussion. For instead of harmony, the director experiments by combining each genre convention and pushing them to their extremes.

    Unfortunately, Monster, due to its implications of a merciless society, becomes a film that is difficult to only read genre-wise. At a glance, the film’s title seems to represent a woman turning into a monster as she fights against a psychopath. However, the film puts realistic characters and situations at the forefront of the film as it poses the question “Who are the ones that are turning Tae-soo and Bok-soon into monsters?” The film ruthlessly observes JEON’s spontaneous choice to cover up violence with money which results in the death of innocent people and a horrific conclusion, and in the end leaves us with nothing but a hollow laugh.
    By SONG Soon-jin
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