Monsters and Swords!
In the 16th Century, a power struggle is occurring in the kingdom of Joseon. King Jung Jong (Hee-soon Park) is dealing with terrible turmoil as his people are coming off a terrible epoch of plague and dwindling food resources. In addition to this, there are rumors of a monster roaming the land, killing and feeding on villagers, farmers, and hunters. Great fear is sweeping the land and the King must do something to quell this hysteria. All the while, he must contend with Prime Minister Sim Woon (Kyeong-yeong Lee), a government official he does not trust, a man he thinks might be behind all of the bad things that are happening. King Jong enlists the aid of a former warrior of his, Yoon (Myung-Min Kim), a loyal man who was banished because he dared to question the Prime Minister many years before during the most horrid time of the plague. Yoon is to investigate whether this monster truly exists and if it does, to find a way to kill it. Yoon’s family is brought along, including his goofy brother Sung (In-kwon Kim), a legendary warrior in his own right, and his adopted daughter Myung (Hyeri Lee), who is spunky and unafraid of the chaos surrounding them. Things go from bad to rotten as Yoon discovers that his distrust of Sim Woon is more than warranted, and treachery is afoot. But in the midst of this battle for the truth, for life and death, another evil emerges. Is the monster real, or just something cooked up to overthrow the king?
This is a pretty terrific movie. There’s a lot of moving parts and it might be easy to get lost in the subtitles and the palace intrigue, but director Jong-ho Huh keeps things moving at a brisk pace. We get introduced to the characters rather quickly, finding Yoon to be hapless, Sung to be goofy, and young Myung dealing with her frustrations at being stuck in a small village when there is an entire world to see. She does not understand why they seem to be living like hermits, barely finding food enough to eat. It all becomes clear when she discovers who her father truly is, a great and banished warrior, as well as her uncle. She doesn’t believe it at first, and neither do we, until the swordplay starts and our endearing characters become almost larger than life. There’s not a lot of suspense, really; we’re pretty sure who the bad guys are right away and who the good ones are, but the real mystery lies in how this will all play out. Will Yoon defeat Sim Woon and keep the King safe? Will the monster—and yes, there is a monster—be defeated or will it continue to ravage the countryside? In the midst of this maneuvering are a lot of great action sequences and terrifying moments. They even give the monster some personality and its own tragic storyline, like all good monsters should have. Right, Sparkles?
Monstrum is a nice mix of historical fantasy, horror, and swords. I guess if you don’t like this sort of thing you should steer clear, but if you don’t like these kinds of mashups, I don’t really know what to say about you. Full of action, great characters, fun and funny moments, and plenty of pathos to keep you deeply engaged, Monstrum kind of has it all. It would get a full Four Stars but some of the CGI is a little too distracting. See this if you can.
Three and a Half Stars out of Four