Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Monster: the Serial Killer vs. the Vegetable Vendor
are enough fractured families here to keep an American sitcom fully stocked.
There is also a serial killer stalking them, so their limited numbers will only
get smaller. However, the stone cold murderer in question may have finally
crossed paths with the wrong vegetable hawker in Hwang In-ho’s dark thriller, Monster (trailer here), which opens tomorrow
in Los Angeles.
is known in her neighborhood as a somewhat slow street vendor with anger
management issues. Nevertheless, she works hard to provide for her somewhat
younger sister Eun-jeong, who is a gifted student with a presumably bright
future ahead of her. Young Na-ri also lived with her older sister, until she
was killed by Tae-soo. Enjoying the chase, Tae-soo gives Na-ri an opportunity
to run, just so he can hunt her down again. Eventually, Bok-soon and her sister
take in the petrified girl. Unfortunately, Eun-jeong soon becomes his next
though Bok-soon has an imperfect understanding of the situation, she is not one
to take her sister’s murder lying down. In fact, she will go out looking for
the killer’s lair, while doing her best to protect Na-ri. Meanwhile, Tae-soo
continues to thoroughly creep out his adopted mother and loser step-brother,
who originally unleashed the maniac on Na-ri’s sister, at the behest of his
shady contacts. After all, what is the good of having a serial killer brother
if you don’t use him as a free enforcer? In retrospect, he might come to regret
seeing Tae-soo’s murderous proficiency up-close-and-personal once again.
potentially exploitative perils of focusing on a mentally challenged focal
character almost go without saying, especially when Hwang often has her creating
various public spectacles. Nevertheless, Kim Go-eun helps rehabilitate Bok-soon
with a fearlessly intense and vulnerable performance. We come to understand her
own frustrations with herself and her fierce sense of loyalty, as well as the
obvious fear and rage. Clearly intended as a dramatic change of pace from her
breakout performance in Eungyo (A Muse),
Kim looks considerably older than the Lolita-like character that ignited her career. Young Ahn Seo-hyun is also a tad older
than when she stole nearly all of her scenes as the privileged daughter of Im
Sang-soo’s The Housemaid, but she is
still an unusually expressive and disciplined child actor.
contrast, Lee Min-ki’s icy ruthlessness is adequate to the film’s needs, but it
is nothing we have not seen before in dozens of previous psycho killer films.
On the other hand, Kim Roi-ha and Kim Boo-seon give the film its darkly comic
edge as his craven half-brother and his massively in-denial Mother Dearest.
Their scenes together take family dysfunction to a whole new level.
Whatever objections audiences might have to Monster’s thematic excesses Hwang
overcomes through the brute force of his thriller mechanics. Tense and violent,
the film is a gripping (and exhausting) viewing experience. Recommended for
fans of the serial killer genre and Kim Go-eun, Monster opens tomorrow (3/14) in Los Angeles at the CGV Cinemas.
Labels: Korean Cinema, Serial killer movies