Yongary Monster from the Deep (1967)
I must admit that the South Korean entry into the Daikaiju genre Yongary Monster from the Deep (1967) is one of my guilty film pleasures, ranking for me a notch below the Danish film Reptilicus (1961), but on viewing pleasure par with Daiei’s later gamera entries Gamera vs. Guiron (1969) and Gamera vs. Viras (1968). I don’t think Yongary is nearly as fun or colorful as Shochiku’s The X from Outer Space (1967) or Toho’s Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) and War of the Gargantuas (1966), from the same era, but it’s worth seeing especially if you are a fan of the genre.
At least one of my film buff friends has offered up the opinion that Yongary “is a horrible film” —but watch a clean print in 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an audio commentary and the film suddenly becomes more interesting. I had hoped the same with Synapse’s release of the infamous Manos: The Hands of Fate, but that film cannot be saved. It’s a piece of crap anyway you look at it.
The new Blu-ray release of Yongary from Kino Lorber (KL) is the best print I’ve seen. It is presented in a wide-screen letterboxed format with an audio commentary by film historian Steve Ryfle and writer-critic Kim Song-ho. Eventually I’d like to compare it to the Japanese DVD. The KL print is not without flaws —the source material has not been restored, and flecks, snow, scratches and other defects in the film stock are present, but the print appears to have been cleaned and is far superior to the Alpha Video release struck from a crappy 16-mm print. I have not seen the MGM Midnight Movies DVD release which is available on a double bill with Konga.
Steve Ryfle and Kim Song-ho offer up some interesting tid bits about the movie. The name of the title beast is derived from “Yong” meaning dragon and “Bulgasari” which is a mythological beast in Korean and Chinese folklore. The mythological Bulgasari is a chimera combining aspects of different beasts, include tiger, bear, rhinoceros, cow and elephant, and it eats iron.The North Korean propaganda/Daikaiju film Pulgasari (1985)(On-Line HERE) features the mythological beast. Although Yongary is not an overt political film, Steve Ryfle and Kim Song-ho point out socially conscious cultural aspects of Yongary, including depiction of nuclear family. We also see this in the modern Korean Daikaiju film The Host (2006), where a family desperately attempts to save a loved one. There’s a scene in Yongary where the title monster tears apart a building reminiscent of the National Diet Building of Japan. The Blu-ray commentators suggest that this may be an homage to Godzilla’s destruction of the building in Gojira (1954) or it could be a Korean prejudice and a gentle poke at Japanese imperialism historically imposed on Korea. What better way to exorcise authority than have a giant monster crush it?
Technically the film Yongary looks pretty good. I think the special effects, models and miniatures look better than the Daiei Gamera films of the same era. The flying model jet sequences are really good and I see no evidence of wires or other supporting filaments. The monster Yongary is just ok and an uninspired design. He reminds me of the monster Barugon (Gamera vs. Barugon, 1966), with a distinct nose horn. I like the row of equally spaced plates on Yongary’s back. I wonder if the monster would have been more effective as a quadraped?
One of the more memorable scene has Yongary inhaling fire from a smoke stack. There’s also a notorious dance sequence with the film’s main protagonist —a boy with an “itch-ray gun” doing the twist with the title monster! It is an amusing sequence and suggest to me that none of this movie should be taken seriously. I wouldn’t call Yongary a “deep cut” of the Daikaiju genre, but it deserves better. The new Blu-ray is a perfect place to give it another chance.
IMDb notes there are at least three cuts of this film, running at 64 min, 74 min and 80 minutes. The version reviewed here is 80 min. Sadly, the original Korean film is lost, with only 48 minutes surviving. I have included a link below from the Korean Film Archives.