Pulgasari (1985)

In Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s wicked and very funny satire Team America: World Police (2004), using marionette puppets Thunderbirds style, wacked-out North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il fraternizes with and tricks hollywood actors into a scheme for world domination. Jong is blown up only to be re-incarnated (revealed?) as a hissing cockroach.   Parker and Stone’s observant film is deadly accurate in parodying Jong’s appreciation of films and dumb actors. With the passing of Kim Jong Il, I thought I’d comment on the strange giant monster and Marxist propaganda flick Pulgasari (1985).  This is one of the films that Kim Jong Il forced kidnapped director Sang-ok Shin to make in the early 1980’s.  I felt motivated this evening and checked out the film on YouTube in 5 parts: http://youtu.be/lON5OXEbk60. (Thanks Mark).

The film version wasn’t sub-titled, but I got the jest of the movie:  An oppressive military leader beats on the common man who is saved by a malevolent giant beast and a team of rebels.  Kaiju meets Rules of the Game?  Pulgasari is obviously a film about class struggle and an odd one at that.

As far as Kaiju films go, Pulgasari falls somewhere between the seminal Toho classic Gojira and one of the lesser Gamera flicks from Daiei. Stylistically it reminds me a lot of the giant Majin films (1966 and later). Pulgasari isn’t a bad film.  I wish I knew more about Kim Jung Il’s role in the making of the production.  The monster is fairly unique, but reminds me a bit of the golden minotaur from the Harryhausen-Schneer production Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977).  Pulgasari is a bovine-reptile hybrid with a bit Majin thrown in!

Pulgasi starts out as a small inanimate cast-iron fetish in the hands of a dying martyr.  The statuette is collected by the dead man’s family and comes to life in a drawer.  Little Pulgasari eats a sewing needle.  He eats iron!  There’s not too many monsters that eat inorganics.  Dogora the giant space jellyfish ate coal and diamonds.  There’s plenty of energy consuming monsters, but I can’t think of any metal-eaters. Like the reptilian Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) eating sulfur, Pulgasari grows fast on a diet of ferro-metallic scraps.  He’s partial to farm implements and later swords and cannonballs, which he chomps down on as evil military ilk attack Kim Jong Il’s innocent workers.

I like the design of Pulgasari. I wonder if Kim Jong Il came up with the concept?  Pulgasari was played by Japanese suit-artist Kenpachiro Satsuma, who played Hedorah in Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (1971) and suited up as various monsters in several films from the 70’s through the 90’s.  He was an accomplished stunt man. Allegedly Kim Jong Il recruited Satsuma for the part of the title beast.

Here’s a rear-projected shot with some of the peasant folks in the foreground.  Compositionally, this scene reminds me of various shots from The Thief of Bagdad (1940).

Here’s a cool shot with the towering Pulgasari overlooking an army of rebel fighters.  This film cost a bundle.  Some of the scenes boast thousands of extras. No CGI animation here folks!

Overall, this film is more of a curiosity than anything.  It’s for Kaiju completists.  It’s not bad. In viewing the film today, I can recognize that Kim Jong Il was a fan of the genre. Several scenes remind me of superior Toho efforts.  I’m not sure if he was paying tribute or just copying the scenes.  However, the concept of an iron-consuming monster is interesting if not original.  For that, I’ll say someone working on the project had a vivid imagination.

A young Pulgasari is born…

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0645661/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089851/

Suit Actor:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0766368/

Good acccount on kidnapped director here:

http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2000/10/16/2000101661023.html

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