Pulgasari (불가사리 Bulgasari)
FIRST APPEARS IN:
– bugged out bung eyes
– bulbous teeth
– heavy metal devil horns
– rad shoulder pads
SKILLS AND QUIRKS:
– eating metal
– supporting the working class
– squashing capitalist bad guys (in a literal, physical sense)
– swallowing projectiles
– hanging around after his welcome wears thin
Well, this is about as weird as it gets in the Kaijū Menagerie. Before Kim Jong-il became the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he was just an average every day cinema buff — a cinema buff with the power of his dad’s armies and limitless wealth behind him. Jong-il was a big fan of kaijū cinema, so he did what any future tyrant kaijū fan would do: he kidnapped a prominent South Korean director and his wife and forced them to make a propaganda film starring a giant monster.
Pulgasari is apparently inspired by Bulgasari, an iron-eating monster from Korean mythology. I’m not sure how the legend goes, but in the film, he is created by a dying, imprisoned blacksmith who forms him out of a chunk of rice (I think… I was a little confused). The tiny and impressively detailed rice-statue comes to life after a drop of human blood lands on it. The newly awakened Pulgasari has a hankering for metal and grows to toddler size as it chows down on swords, pots and pans. Baby Pulgasari is cute as fuck.
As Pulgasari gets bigger and bigger, a gang of disenfranchised farmers decide to make him a pawn in their battle against the capitalistic rulers of the land. Pulgasari makes for an excellent soldier, pounding his way through armies and consuming every weapon in his path. Much like Jong-il’s dad, Kim Il-sung, he is the people’s hero!
And much like North Korea itself, the people’s victory is short-lived and corrupted by the hero who saved them. In the film’s final ten minutes, Pulgasari suddenly shifts from saviour to a lazy, metal-guzzling slob. The farmers realise that this giant monster is a bigger threat to the land than all the capitalistic pigs in the world combined.
With an oversized god-like being saving constantly sobbing peasants, Pulgasari is closer in tone and narrative to Daimajin than Godzilla. But, with its bizarre backstory and propaganda leanings, comparisons only go so far. It is well and truly in a strange league of its own. Surprisingly, shockingly even, Pulgasari‘s actually quite good. Godzilla suit-wearer Kenpachiro Satsuma even claimed this was better than America’s horrible first attempt at remaking Godzilla (I agree, as would any true kaijū nerd). Pulgasari is packed with action, melodrama, a dash of comedy, a large helping of torture and violence, and mostly impressive effects.
The design of Pulgasari reaches a blend of goofy and threatening that few other monster movies perfect. He is an explosion of imposing horns and steely, impenetrable skin with a healthy helping of bung eyes and a toothy grins. Toho staff actually assisted in the making of Pulgasari and their experienced handiwork shows. Technically, the suit is impressive. His face appears to be fully functioning and pulls some amazing expressions.
While he is the product of a deeply troubling propaganda machine, Pulgasari is more exciting monster than many of his Japanese contemporaries. Though we should certainly be thankful that kidnapped director Shin Sang-ok and his wife escaped from Kim Jong-il’s clutches, it would have been fun to see Pulgasari pitted against another foe in a sequel. Perhaps a bloated American robot sporting star and stripes? Now there’s a movie I’d like to see.