A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Comrade of the Monsters

Every week I go to the bank down the street for some pocket money and in so doing pass a Noraebang called the "Young-Gary Musig [sic] Park." It's in the basement level of a cavernous-looking building and above the sign outside is a large, plastic bust of Godzilla.

Or so I thought...

I figured the proprietor of the "Musig Park" (the g and k sounds are interchangeable in Korean, so to some it's kimbap, and others it's gimbap) was a fellow named Young, maybe with the English first name Gary.

As I learned recently from Joey, "Yonggary" is Korea's guy-in-a-rubber-suit monster movie gift to the world.

Here's the handsome fella in his original form:

I'm quite delighted I came across this information, since I'm a big fan of all things B-movie. Inspired by the Toho's Godzilla franchise, Korea coughed-up "Taekoesu Yonggary" in 1967. Yong is the Korean word for dragon, and Yonggary appears accordingly, only with a prominent laser-shooting nose horn, an appetite for gasoline, and an apparent weakness to ammonia precipitate. According to IMDB reviews, this weakness brings about one of the most grizzly, and realistic rubber-monster demises in the genre, what with the melting, the chemical burns and the hey-hey-hey it hurts me.

As it turns out, at the same time Godzilla 2000 was being produced, Korean director Shim Hyung-rae, produced a flashy new Yonggary in 1999, with an all-American cast, English scrip, and eyes for foreign distribution:

This is exactly how Yonggary appears above the entrance to the "Musig Park" so I'm inclined to believe that the owners bought a set piece in a studio fire-sale after the movie obviously bombed (Korea has since figured out how to do monster movies quite well).

After a little digging I discovered a the far more interesting story behind the North Korean monster movie "Pulgasari." It's generally well-reported that the Dear Leader is a movie fan. As the story goes, he had his secret service abduct South Korean director Shin Sang-Ok, and make him Pulgasari, where a jailed pacifist blacksmith dies in prison but first makes a tiny doll out of rice from his daughter, which, on contact with blood, turns into a metal hungry dragon that rebels against the tyrant King but then turns on the villagers. One scene even features 10,000 extras from the Korean People's Army.

So now we have a guy-in-a-rubber suit championing himself as a state-sponsored-metaphor-for-unchecked-capitalism, a sub-genre of "Gojira-rama" which you can understand has not had much in the way of follow-up...

As a bit of trivia, the Japanese actor who played Godzilla from 1984 on, Kenpachiro Satsuma, was also recruited into donning the Pulgasari suit. Satsuma was apparently critical of the Hollywood CGI Godzilla (I know you're wondering... HOW!?) and was pleased at Pulgasari finally being shown outside North Korea, more than a decade after it's 1985 release.

In my searching I found this gem of info at the IMDB trivia listing for 2004's "Gojira: Fainaru uôzu":

"As a treat to die-hard Godzilla fans, the namesake title monster from the much-maligned Hollywood box-office fiasco, Godzilla (1998) (directed by Roland Emmerich), makes an appearance in this film as Zilla (or Jira, short for Gojira), an assassin monster engineered by the aliens from Planet X to kill Godzilla. When director Ryuheu Kitamura announced this at a press conference in late August, he said that he named the Hollywood version Zilla for his film, because he felt that the 1998 film "has taken the 'God' out of Godzilla." The fight between Godzilla and Zilla takes place in Sydney, Australia, and is computer-generated, just like in the Hollywood movie."


Those with time to kill, and a high tolerance for terrible audio and video quality can watch Pulgasari here in its entirety.

I guess you never know what you might find walking down a street in Korea...

1 comment:

Claire said...

Sammo! have you ever seen the Godzilla vs Space Godzilla movie!!!!!!?????? James and I watched it! One word...AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAmazing! :D hehe