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Monsters, the other Kim Ki-duk, and Mr D-War’s earlier film

Ever since dipping into Anthony Leong’s fun collection of film reviews I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a copy of Yonggary. He gives a charitable 1 star out of 5 to the film:

As the film’s tagline declares, “It’s not what you expect” — in fact it’s far, far worse.

Sounds like the sort of film to put on after a few beers. Maybe something in the “so bad it’s good” category.

2001 Yonggary (Reptilian)

Leong’s review was of the film Yonggary (1999) by Shim Hyung-rae (심형래), also known as Reptilian. Shim is better known for his current blockbuster D-War — which many seem to be finding a guilty pleasure at the moment. It definitely sounds like an improvement on his earlier film. According to Leong:

It looks as though director Shim used a Sony Playstation One to animate Yonggary, with all its shiny textures and pixelated objects. And when these low quality computer animations are blue-screened with live action, you’ll be wishing that you had rented Godzilla movies from the 1960s instead.

I’m afraid I didn’t pay too much attention to his review, and thus failed to spot that there are at least three films about Yonggary. Accordingly I bought the first film of that name I could find, and ended up with a spectacularly bad American dubbed version of the 1967 film by Kim Ki-duk (the other one, not the director so prominent in the film world today). The film is also known as Yongary, Monster from the Deep, and also Taekoesu Yongary.

Yonggary, Monster from the Deep

Here’s the plot (from the back of the DVD cover)

A nuclear explosion sets off a massive earthquake. An astronaut on a reconnaissance mission notices that the epicenter of the earthquake appears to be moving straight towards the heart of Korea. This is no ordinary earthquake – the legendary reptilian monster Yongary has been awakened by intense radiation. With martial law declared and the city evacuated, the army and air force battle the fearsome creature with tanks and rockets, but their weapons are useless. Ilo, a brilliant scientist and his precocious eight-year-old sidekick Icho must desperately attempt to devise a plan to save the city and defeat Yongary, the monster from the deep.

Yongary was Korea’s first entry into the kaiju movie genre. Although it drew heavily on the imagery and storyline of Godzilla, Yongary retained a unique regional feel that continues to impress viewers today.

I think the word “impress” might over-state the matter. The immediate feel I get is that of Gerry Anderson’s puppet shows Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. The rocket motors in Yongary could easily be those of Thunderbird 1, while the aircraft which rain “missals” on the poor beast could easily have been piloted by Destiny and Harmony Angel from Cloudbase. And the sets used in Yonggary which are so effortlessly destroyed by our monster could easily be the same as those left standing when the Mysterons just failed to eliminate twenty-first century London.

And is there anything particularly Asian, Korean about the movie? Well, no-one seemed to bat an eyelid when a newly wedded husband was summoned back to the office on his wedding night by his father-in-law, which suggests a certain respect for authority and over-developed work ethic. I’m sure the ease with which the monster demolished the buildings is not meant to be a reflection of Korean construction standards. But the first thought of the general, when the crisis committee hears of this mysterious earthquake heading for Seoul, is to declare martial law. Very of its time.

But this is not a DVD to buy. It’s probably more enjoyable in its original Korean version, but in this particular edition the characters are dubbed by particularly wooden American voice actors. Definitely in the “so bad it’s just plain bad” category.

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