Star of the Month — August, 2017 - Taipei Film Commission
Interview with Mon Mon Mon Monsters Director Giddens Ko
(Article/ Catherine Huang; photography & video/ May Wen)
Mon Mon Mon Monsters director Giddens Ko interviewed by Taipei Film Commission
Having achieved success in writing web fiction, Giddens Ko did not settle for his accomplishment as a "popular writer," and made a leap into the film industry in 2011 by directing his first feature film - You Are the Apple of My Eye, which not only set box office records in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but also made stars out of young performers such as Kai Ko and Michelle Chen, and inspired a new generation of productions in the "teen" genre. Six years later, Giddens Ko revisited the campus theme with a different approach, directing and writing his latest thriller - Mon Mon Mon Monsters. Behind the gore and violence, Giddens Ko also vested the film with "introspection," presenting artistry of violence and social criticism both at the same time.
Giddens Ko's new production Mon Mon Mon Monsters explores the dark side of humanity
The creation originates from Ko's fear towards "expensive productions"
The creation of Mon Mon Mon Monsters originated from Giddens Ko's fear towards "expensive production." Giddens Ko once had an opportunity to adapt another one of his novel - Kung Fu and direct his second feature-length film in 2014. The trailer alone cost NT$4 million to make, and the entire production was budgeted at NT$700 million ~ NT$800 million. Just as the audience was eagerly awaiting for Giddens Ko's next masterpiece, the production of Kung Fu was postponed indefinitely without warning. "Because of this postponement, I became fearful of films that require huge money to make."
He then developed the idea to use this sentiment to his advantage, and started planning a "low-budget horror" with only one scene and filmed entirely using cellphone camera, while the plot involved "three elementary students torturing a little monster inside a room." Giddens Ko said with excitement that: "It came to me as an unprecedented idea at the time, one that had the potential to win major film awards!" However, this outrageous idea was eventually talked down by filmmaker and cinematographer Patrick Chou, and Ko decided to upscale his film from a quasi-documentary into a hundred-million-dollar feature-length production. Furthermore, the simple element of horror was explored and expanded to include his insight on cyberbullying observed in recent years.
In recent films such as Café, Waiting, Love and The Tenants Downstairs, Giddens Ko had stepped down from the role of director and focused on his role as screenwriter and executive producer for his adapted novels. Ko explained that screenwriting is his real hobby, and being an executive producer is simply "one way to involve himself in film productions." "I always think that even the best director will make a flop some day; it is just a matter of probability." Giddens Ko said that this "fear of flop" was why he tried to avoid directing where possible. Instead, he would rather keep his distance and contribute to filmmaking from a safe, influential position where he can keep the original story intact.
Fear of flop is what keeps Ko on edge everyday when making films
"This time round, I finally mustered the courage to try and avoid a flop!" said Giddens Ko, despite his proven talents and free-spirit personality. "There is a great difference between filmmaking and writing novels. In films, we need many people contributing their best works, and every detail has to be perfected. There is always a chance to flop before the final cut." This perfectionism was what gave Mon Mon Mon Monsters a high level of accomplishment in terms of artistry, visual effects and film scoring. The overall presentation rivals those of Japanese and Korean productions on campus bullying.
Amongst all the details involved, screenwriting was the most time-consuming stage in Mon Mon Mon Monsters. Giddens Ko, who remained on edge everyday when making films, believed that "the more you get the scripts right beforehand, the more time and mistakes you save afterwards; it is the most critical part of all." Although refining scripts is one of Giddens Ko's strengths, "performance instruction" is his great weakness. "After all, I was never a performance instructor. Why do directors have to show people how to act?" he said. Giddens Ko has his own ways of directing films. Instead of using standardized performance instructions, Giddens Ko patiently explains to the performers the concept of each scene and the motivations behind every character. He then explores possibilities based on performers' actual performances and chooses the presentation that best conforms with the image he has in mind.
Casting and plot
The worst side of humanity and bullying form the main plot of this film. In one particular scene - "the bullying of community elders," several old people were used as the subject in various forms of practical joke such as spinning top, car racing, and horseback riding, which aroused protest from the audience. Giddens Ko clarified that "these elders actually felt excited about the plot; on the screen, they have always been respected, offered seats and tea, and they were all eager to try something fresh." He further explained that the main purpose of this scene was to present the horrible personality of Duan Ren-hao, the main character, and "playing practical joke on elders" was what Giddens Ko believed to be the "unprecedented" way of describing bad behavior. In the film, Giddens Ko designed a morality trap where Lin Shu-wei, the good student being bullied, was temped into becoming the bully without himself knowing. Ko said that "this was like the scene bout practical jokes on elder, the production crew was hesitant at first, but once people saw the fun in it, they tried to top others with more outrageous jokes; believe it or not, this is our human nature."
Giddens Ko's innovative way of describing children's bad behavior - bullying the elders
The cast of Mon Mon Mon Monsters consisted entirely of new performers. When the public is astounded by how Giddens Ko managed to consistently succeed with an unorthodox cast, he said: "People have the illusion that ‘Giddens Ko likes to cast new performers;’ if fact, I actually made a mistake when casting for the film!" Ko emphasized that if he knew he was upscaling the production, he would never cast inexperienced performers. He cast Kent Tsai for the main character Duan Ren-hao simply because of Tsai's popularity without much thought. Ko later found out that new performers tend to be confined to their existing personalities, and Tsai, who had the appearance of a polite boy-next-door, could never truly capture the essence of a "vicious" student that Giddens Ko had in mind. The production crew had to improvise on the set in order to come up with the "cool kid" version of Duan Ren-hao presented on film. Kent Tsai was able to adapt to this new character profile, and "his acting performance took a great leap forward from middle to the end stages of the shooting, and was totally capable of convincing me." said Ko. Giddens Ko thought that "Kent Tsai was lucky to have impressed the audience with a kind image during his last appearance in The Psychic. When the audience see him play the villain this time round, they would praise the actor's versatility instead of regarding him as a villain pretending to be kind."
The "cool kid" version of Duan Ren-hao was tailored to match Kent Tsai's personality
Compared to Duan Ren-hao's viciousness, the lack of compassion in the school babe, and hypocrisy of the school teacher, Giddens Ko had shaped Lin Shu-wei - the "good" student in Mon Mon Mon Monsters - with a personality of "an ordinary person trying to be good." The character constantly reminds himself that he is "unlike the bad guys," but lacks the courage to do the right thing. In order to bring introspection into the story, Giddens Ko gave Lin Shu-wei a chance to convert towards the end of the film. "People resent the character for being cowardly and despicable, but will try to forgive him for his final decision, because he was not born a bad person, he just lacks the courage to do good."
[About the Director]
Giddens Ko (Ko Ching-teng), born 1978, graduated from the postgraduate study of sociology, Tunghai University. Ko began writing web fictions since 1999, and has a total of 78 creations to date. He became one of the most renowned and top-selling authors in Taiwan in relatively short time because of his diverse writing styles and high productivity. Ko's most popular novels include: Kung Fu, The Soul Reaper Series (unofficial), You Are the Apple of My Eye, Café, Waiting, Love, and The Tenants Downstairs. He holds record as the author with the largest number of fictions adapted into visual production in Taiwan.
In 2008, Ko made his first attempt at film direction by directing L-O-V-E: Part 1. In 2010, he directed his first feature-length film - You Are the Apple of My Eye, an adaptation of his romantic biographical novel, and received overwhelming acclaims for it. He was the playwright and/or executive producer for his adapted fictions including Café, Waiting, Love,The Tenants Downstairs, and A Choo. Mon Mon Mon Monsters (2017) received Bucheon Choice - NH Audience Award during Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, and was selected for screening at Sitges Film Festival (Spain) and competition at Montreal World Film Festival.