Monster [Guàishòu] (2018)

Okay, that’s interesting, someone turning a classic John Wayne movie into a SF Creature Feature…

…And even more interesting that it is from China.

One of the greatest frustrations for those of us constantly on the search for interesting SF and Fantasy films we haven’t seen are the films we catch a tantalizing glimpse of (whether a trailer, a few clips, or, even worse, the full film on video without a subtitle in sight) which then prove to be almost impossible to find.  This seems to happen to me all the time when it comes to Chinese film.

Let’s face it:  the Chinese film industry — or, technically, industries, as Hong Kong has long had its own film industry, which still survives under the current one State, two systems policy (at least for now) — is poorly documented in the West and it can be exceedingly painful and difficult and out and out frazzling to identify the super cool film whose trailer you’ve just watched.  Even finding a listing on can be like waiting for lightning to strike as routine searches completely fail to find a listing using the few snippets of information you have.  I’ve experienced this before with films like Snake Curse (She Zhou) and, after stumbling across a mysterious movie on Ok.Ru, once again found myself wandering through a maze of unhelpful google pages and IMDB searches before I finally identified this one.

Trust me, it wasn’t easy.

Nor could I find subtitles.  I was about to throw this one into the overfilled vault of awesome unavailable movies when I turned up versions with burnt-in English subs.  Frustratingly small subs which were annoyingly dim — and partly concealed by the Arabic subs — but English subs nonetheless.

Was it worth the effort?  In a word, definitely!

A group of people wake up on a bus that is in the middle of an unknown desert.  They have no idea who they are or how they got there.  The hero doesn’t even recognize his own face.

Within minutes, most of them are dead.

The five men who survive are about to start fighting over the last bottle of water when they find another passenger hiding in a luggage compartment:  a little girl.

And that changes everything.

Not only does Monster offer us lots of cool B-Movie creatures, some fairly solid action sequences and some scary moments, it offers us a complex second level to the story as we gradually learn who these men are and the explanations for many of the strange mysteries they uncover, like the bag of money and the handcuffs the hero wakes up in.

While a lot of this is more or less what we expect, there are quite a few interesting little surprises, particularly the curious motivation for one of the more reprehensible acts in the film — a revelation which offers a touch of sympathy for a character the audience might not think deserving.

One of the best parts of the film is the strong element of Buddhism, which is presented honestly and with respect.  We’ve seen far too few movies these days — and even fewer genre films — where religion is not merely presented sympathetically, but is a vital part of the moral story the film has to tell.

And it is so hard to tell a story where the heroes are willing to sacrifice themselves for someone else without a strong foundation of religious belief to build on.  There is an incredible redemptive arc here, and it is summed up so well when the girl tells her “Fathers” that even if they were bad they can always choose to be good.

Need I say that I am surprised to find this in a film made in Communist China?

But I’m afraid that I would be even more surprised to find an American film that presented the Philosophia Perennis so clearly.

I do have to note that the monsters are CGI and not always very good CGI at that.  At times, one is aware of them “floating” above the desert floor (it is very hard to “anchor” a CGI element in a live action frame) and some of the shots are way too shiny, particularly the close-ups of the monsters’ heads, which look somehow under rendered to me, as if they left out a step or two when creating them.  However, the creatures are surprisingly distinct, with several different head designs and a set of strange horns that turn in on themselves on what is probably the Alpha male.

Oh, and let’s face it, the purists will complain about soldiers fighting at Galipoli in 1915 who were armed with World War II vintage STEN guns.  But I suspect that they were easier to find than vintage BAR automatic rifles and more exciting than the standard issue Lee-Enfield single shot rifles would have been.

And, let’s face it, one doesn’t expect accuracy from a Chinese monster movie.

This is an absolutely incredible B-Movie.  It has a great concept, good performances, is quite scary in places, and offers one thrill after another.  The characters are interesting — even if they don’t know who they are — as are the underlying mysteries surrounding the strange place our heroes find themselves in.  The crime thriller “B”-plots are nicely integrated into the rest of the story, and the action sequences are well staged and thrilling.  It is as good a creature feature as you are likely to find anywhere.

It’s just too bad you’re not going to see it in the U.S. anytime soon.

Frankly that seems a shame to me.  The SyFy Network regularly shows films that are far worse than this — far, far, far worse (I just watched Reptisaurus, so I should know!) and one can easily imagine this one being a huge hit for them — if they had it dubbed (after all, everyone knows Americans won’t watch subtitled films).  I can remember when Roger Corman (who provides many of the SyFy Originals) used to find foreign genre films and market them here.  Admittedly, his attempts at “improving” them weren’t always that great, but you do have to wonder why he hasn’t bought up some of these great, little-seen foreign films and dubbed them.

If nothing else, it would be a nice change from the latest Crocosaurus sequel.

Oh, and John Wayne?  You want to know which of his movies seems to be the inspiration for this one?

Well, I’ll let you figure that out on your own.

(Film available here, with subtitles)


And check out our new Feature (Updated May 16, 2019):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!

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