South Korean movie Monstrum is an entertaining hybrid of mystery, thriller, action, comedy and romance

The Monstrum opens on Sept 20, 2018.
The Monstrum opens on Sept 20, 2018.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

REVIEW / PERIOD THRILLER

MONSTRUM (PG13)

105 minutes/Opens Sept 20/3.5 stars

The story: During the reign of king Jung Jong (Park Hee-soon), rumours of a terrible man-eating monster roaming Mount Inwangsan spread panic among the people. Is there really a monster or is it all a ploy by the scheming prime minister Sim Woon (Lee Geung-young)? The king can only trust former general Yun Kyum (Kim Myung-min), who embarks on a search for the creature together with his trusted right-hand man Sung Han (Kim In-kwon), daughter Myung (Lee Hye-ri) and court officer Hur (Choi Woo-shik).

Is this a creature feature or is it not?

Not to worry, the question of whether there is a monster is definitively answered one hour into the movie. But even then, there is no let-up in the tension.

The premise sounds fantastical but director and co-writer Huh Jong-ho (The Advocate: A Missing Body, 2015) was actually inspired by a passage from the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, which were kept from 1413 to 1865. It was recorded that a mul gwe, mysterious presence or event, forced king Jung Jong to abandon his quarters.

From that cryptic description, Huh has crafted an exciting and entertaining movie that has a little of everything.

There is a central mystery, blood and gore from vicious attacks, political intrigue, comic relief from Sung Han, and even a burgeoning romance between Myung and Hur. It could easily have been too much but the film-maker manages to pull off a fine balancing act.

The actors also do a good job of fleshing out their characters. Kim Myung-min (Six Flying Dragons, 2015 to 2016) is nobly heroic as the general while Girl's Day member Lee Hye-ri (Reply 1988, 2015) makes for a lively and spunky Myung. The young woman is no mere bystander but a fearless examiner of dead bodies and is deadly accurate with a bow and arrow to boot.

The villains are more rote but ably played by veterans Lee Geung-young (The Battleship Island, 2017) as the contemptuous premier and Park Sung-woong (New World, 2013) as his skilled hatchet man.

The ending is not very believable, though. And a coda to explain things suggests that film-maker Huh knows that it's quite a stretch - even for a movie about a man-eating monster.

Watch the trailer at www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv2PIgVOlb0