Pulgasari (1985)

Here we are. We all knew this was coming, didn't we? Other than the fact that I actually teased this earlier this month, this movie has been begging to be covered for quite some time now. Ever since I started Kaijuly up, I knew I had to talk about this one. Why did it take me so long? Probably because it wasn't that easy to get a copy of this movie to even watch, much less review. Now after all this time, all the people asking me if I was going to go down this path, we finally arrived at the mountain that is Pulgasari.

And he's looking particularly horny. Wait...

This movie is quite possibly one of the most infamous giant monster films ever made, if not one of the most strange films ever made period. Why? Because it was made in North Korea and produced by Kim Jong-il. Oh yeah, this right here is a movie made by President Pompadour himself. You see, he was a massive fan of kaiju films. And that's not a fat joke, he really dug the hell out of giant mosnters running amok. Something about seeing a nation running in terror from an unstoppable force bigger than them must have really hit home with him, I suppose.

I'm now on a special list of people North Korea wants dead.
Well, before his country is able to put a hit out on me, let's finish talking about this. So, Kim was such a big fan and all but he lamented the fact that his own country had no giant monster to call their own. Even Britain had Gorgo, for fuck's sake! Thus he took matters into his own hands, which is to say that he ordered some of his men to go kidnap people. Famous South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his wife, Choi Eun-hee, were both taken into custody. This was because Kim was also a fan of the director's work and wanted him to see his vision brought to life. All of this was done before he even took over as ruler of North Korea, mind you. He had the director make more than a few films during his captivity, but the most famous of those has to be this one, for fairly obvious reasons.

It sure wasn't the cinematography that made this thing famous.
It's also worth noting that the creature itself is actually not something they simply dreamed up for this movie, as it is an actual mythological being known for eating iron in Korean mythology. I find that kinda interesting, honestly. It's not too often these films have real historical ties like that. Let's get to it then and see if this movie is actually any good or if it is simply just another strange story about North Korea that people talk about.

With some stories proving to be stranger than others. Right, Dennis Rodman?
The movie opens on a still image of Pulgasari while some very Phantasm-like music plays, which is putting me in entirely the wrong frame of mind for a giant monster film. The Tall Man is big, but he's not that big! After the movie completely spoils what the monster looks like, we get to the story as we see a small village struggling along in feudal Korea. Our focus seems to be on the blacksmith and his family though, as we see him and his workers in the forge working away. That is, until it turns out some of the young workers have been stashing weapons in pile of grass. The blacksmith confront his nephew, who he knows is chiefly responsible, and tells him how it breaks his heart to see him put his life on the line as a bandit. He even says how he'd hoped he was going to marry his daughter one day and take over the shop...wait...his daughter? And this is his nephew...? Um...

"I had hoped you'd marry your cousin & carry on the long line of incest our family was raised on. That's why I married your mother."
But enough of that, it seems the governor's men are here and these rascally bandits need to scoot before they're all strung up. The governor orders the blacksmith/uncle/father to use his forge to turn all the farming tools and cooking utensils into swords and spears for the army to use in fighting the bandits. Inde, the nephew/son, and his boys decide to try and stop the soldiers from taking the tools and cookware from the village, as they kinda need that stuff to live. For their trouble they end up being imprisoned and the blacksmith/uncle/father sneakily gives all the stuff back to the village anyway, making Inde's sacrifice kinda pointless in the end. But it doesn't all end well, as the blacksmith/uncle/father now is being beaten for "losing" the stuff and blaming it on Pulgasari. He then gets imprisoned as well, with the governor giving orders that he is to not get any food or water. I bet I know what's he's thinking at this point.

"I could really go for a French Dip right about now."
His sister/wife runs to tell Ami and her brother what's happened to their father, which results in them rushing to go prepare some food. In the meantime, the other prisoners (Inde and his boys) refuse to eat until the old man is given food, but it doesn't work. When Ami and her brother show up, they're refused entry and their father tells them to not worry and to go home. But they manage to toss his food into the window where he quickly grabs it up and then firmly decides rubbing it into a dirty ball is much better than eating it. But he's not just making a dirty rice ball, oh no. He's actually making a tiny monster figure out of dirty rice. At least, I think it's just rice...how did it get black again? Did he mix a little bit of himself in there too? You know...poop? It's a poop monster? Why does it always have to be poop in these monster movies! It's like I'm being haunted by the ghost of the Golgothan Shit Demon from Dogma.

The similarities between the two honestly bother me a little.
So he dies, having now made his Pulgasari shit-rice idol figure, which ends up going home with his corpse. After grieving for her father, Ami begins mending her brother's clothes and really gashes the living shit out of her finger with the needle. Like seriously, holy shit, that is a lot of blood from a needle prick! And some of that outpouring of blood ends up on the small figure, creating hepatitis. Alright, not really. In reality, it brings the thing to life and it begins eating her needles.

Soon after, Ami dies of blood loss.
Now the two sad siblings are happy again because they have a metal eating shit demon at their disposal. The next morning, they're shocked to learn that the little bastard go loose, having eaten their door latch and lock, escaping out into the forge where it has eaten a lot more and gotten much bigger. It's just big enough and dopey enough to be almost as annoying as Minilla. Almost. What does it do with these amazing powers to eat metal? It saves Inde and his boys by eating various swords and spears when they're to be executed. Yeah, even I have to admit that's pretty lucky for them. But the little monster isn't exactly easy to control, as he's also taken to eating pot and pans in the village too. But it's still enough to spook the governor. Ami and her brother go to find their iron-loving friend, but he's more interesting in hanging out with his hoes.

Look at you over there with your dirty mind.
The governor grabs Inde's mom and brother, beating them both, which then leads Ami to tell him. He goes to rescue them, but they're already dead, meaning this incestuous family is having a pretty rough go of things. Inde manages to let the governor get a taste of his blade in an entirely different fashion than the way Pulgasari prefers. The bothers the king, who then orders his best general off to go put down these bandits and farmers who are all now holing themselves up on the mountain. The soldiers decide to attack, but this goes rather badly when the bandits throw paper mache boulders and twigs that turn into logs when they get closer at them, killing many of the soldiers. The new tactic is then to keep the bandits stranded on the mountain, keeping them from getting food or supplies. Because of this, a horse dies.

I'm not entirely certain that's a special effect. I think they may have actually killed a real horse.
But, despite the horse and tree eating going, they still seem to be running low of food, so three of Inde's boys head down to go try their luck. All three find some soldiers and end up dying in a drawn out fight scene. Ami saw their obvious success, so she tries her own luck out, which results in some soldiers grabbing her. But she has something better than swords, arrows, or spears! She's got a titular monster!

Pulgasari saves her and the bandits welcome him into their ranks, bringing him into battle. And sense nothing seems to be able to pierce his hide, he's a pretty damn good weapon. For his help, they feed him all the enemy weapons and this makes him grow and grow until he's big enough to finally punch the gods squarely in their collective sexual organs. This upsets the king and his general, as it means the bandits and farmers are a much more significant threat. The general tries using ballistas on him, but it just makes his eye bleed a little, which just makes him a lot more angry. Also, using flying pieces of iron on a thing that eats iron is probably a bad idea. Just FYI. Then his right hand man says they should capture Ami, as her blood brought him to life and...what? How the fuck does he know that? Did he watch this movie? Did he he peek at the script? Because no one else knows that. Hell, not even Ami seemed aware that her blood brought it to life, so this is just out of nowhere. But yeah, he knows, so they take her hostage and lure Pulgasari into a big cage, where he's set on fire.

This only seems to make him turn red and get much angrier.
They flee in boats, but he does a belly flop in the water and boils a ton of them alive, as he is intensely hot from being doused in flames. Ami encourages him to keep helping them as they continue their attack, but the general's idiot has another idea: dig a really big hole. Are you fucking kidding me? Are you serious with this? It's a giant fucking monster and your best idea is to dig a really big hole for it to fall into? That is stupid. You're stupid. But they do it, even though not nearly enough time passes for a hole that friggin' deep to possibly be dug. Also, the hole they show being dug? Yeah, it looks nothing at all like the hole he actually ends up falling into. Great continuity there, movie.

I'm sure Phelous would want me to put this here.
They also drop rocks on him, leaving me to wonder where they found that many rocks to cover up a giant monster, but whatever. In the aftermath, the bandit army gets razed and Inde ends up being hung, because the movie decided it was done with him. Ami sneaks in to kill the general as a prostitute, I assume, but I end up being wrong because instead she goes out to where Pulgasari is buried and slits her wrist instead. Pulgasari wakes and summarily fucks shit up nicely, with the general running back to them king. They discuss their final chance at beating the monster, a new weapon that is being built that can supposedly crumble mountains. What is this horrifying super weapon?

Cannons. They built two cannons. Two fucking statue cannons.
Nevermind the fact that clearly these are weapons (plural), I'm pretty fucking sure cannons aren't going to help. There have been human beings that could withstand cannon fire and you think these things will beat a giant monster? Good luck with that. Unsurprisingly, the cannons don't really do shit to Pulgasari,  he destroys their castle, and even squishes the king under his foot. And that right there? That had me snickering for a good five minutes, I swear to you.

I could watch this part all day.
The heroes win and everything is gravy, right? Nope! Because it turns out that Pulgasari is still a relentless eating machine and he's wiping out all the iron tool and stuff, but people feel like they should try to feed him because he's their saviour and all. Ami, not wanting to see her people suffer anymore, sacrifices herself by ringing a large iron bell, then crawling into it and letting Pulgasari eat her. This causes him to turn to stone and shatter, then showing us the former little version himself who then turns into a tiny blue light and flies into the dead body of Ami. Does she come back to life? Nope. She just lays there dead with tears rolling down her dead face while that Phantasm-like melody plays again. The end!

Happy endings are for people living in the other Korea where their souls aren't crushed.
This movie...wow...so, it was fairly obvious ol' King Jong-il was trying to hammer home a message with this one. That message being that capitalism is evil and leads to the death of the community. Well, at least until one of the community summons a shit demon powered by the blood of his daughter and lots of iron. As a kaiju movie though, it's not the worst. It definitely is heavy handed with the message, but it can also just be looked at as a classic tale of an evil empire trying to crush a rebellion, which is a concept we're all quite familiar with.

Maybe this empire would've fared better if it supplied sick dance moves like a certain other empire.
My main complaint about the film though is that the political subtext, if it can be considered subtext when it's so blatant, takes away from the giant monster fun. It takes forever to finally get Pulgasari in the movie and then he stays pretty small for a while before he joins the ranks of other kaiju, which left me feeling a bit gypped. I guess that's part of why people complained about the new Godzilla movie last year, but even that had more giant monster action than this did. As an oddity, this movie does stand out though, but not for the film itself. No, it really stands out because it shows how crazy Kim Jong-il was, as he was willing to kidnap people and force them to make movies against their will just so he could get his very own giant monster. It's hard to top that one, no matter how hard Putin tries. So, until North Korea tracks me down to make an example of me, I'll be here practicing my own sick dance moves. Later days bleeders.

Then again, maybe they'll confuse me for Seth Rogen. I hear he's already on their shit list.