Director: Huh Jong-ho
Starring: Kim Myung-min, Choi Woo-Shik, Lee Hye-ri, Park Hee-soon, Sung-woong Park, Kyeong-yeong Lee
Run Time: 105mins
The latest arrival on Shudder is a South Korean monster movie that you partly suspect may have been picked up based on the star power of Choi Woo-Shik (Parasite, Train to Busan). Although this possibly a little unfair given the movie picked up an Audience Award at the Stiges festival. And there is undoubtedly something to "Monstrum's" mixture of martial arts action, political machinations, comedy, romance, and monster mayhem.
Woo-shik it turns out has a relatively reduced role in proceedings as he is largely there as the love interest for one of the other main characters. The story's main protagonist is Yun-kyum (Kim Myung-min). A former warrior who is instructed, along with his brother Sung-han (Kim In-kwon) and daughter Myung (Lee Hye-ri), by King Jungjong (Park Hee-soon) to find whether a rumoured vicious creature roaming the countryside is real or merely a scare story to destabilise his throne.
Where the story goes from here is entirely predictable. Plot is definitely not one of the films strong suits as every twist and turns you can see signposted a mile away. At times, to an almost eye-rolling degree. The formulaic storytelling is not the only thing that feels overly familiar as the characters also rarely raise themselves above archetypes. This includes our central three characters as Yun-kyum is a reluctant noble warrior, Myung the stereotypical feisty female lead, and Sung-Han as the comic relief. We also have a well-meaning but somewhat naïve king and a scheming prime minister, amongst others. So far, so generic.
Despite all this, there is also a number of commendable elements to the film. First off is while their characters may not be well-drawn, the main cast are very good in their roles. Also, there is good chemistry between the leads, and there is a fun family dynamic between Yun-Kyum, Myung, and Sam-Han. The film makes a decent fist of spinning the various genre plates at play here.
Something else that gives proceedings a relatively unique flavour is the Joseon dynasty setting (16th Century) and the rather startling fact that the movie claims to be "based on a true story." Of course, it seems very unlikely there was actually a monster tearing through the South Korean mountainsides, but it certainly does add another note of intrigue to the film.
Where the movie really sings though is in its action sequences. Director Huh Jong-ho clearly knows his way around an action set-piece as each sword battle and piece of monster carnage is very well-staged. Another key strength is the monster itself, as you can't have a good monster movie without a good monster. And Monstrum certainly has that. The creature making an indelible impression on the viewer from the moment it roars onto the screen. You only wished that many of the other elements were as memorable as its central creature.
Overall: While hamstrung by predictable plotting and over-familiar character, Monstrum, motors along at a breezy pace, has several spirited performances and has more than enough action set-pieces and creature carnage to make it a fun watch.
Monstrum will be available on Shudder from May 14th.