Saturday, October 03, 2015
Welcome to North Korea's first and only kaiju movie! That's right, North Korea, home to everybody's favorite supervillain dictator, the late Kim Jong-Il. As a matter of fact, the production of Pulgasari was helmed by a famous South Korean director that Kim Jong-Il had kidnapped and forced to make movies of Kim's choosing. I swear I am making none of this up.
While this movie does in many ways break from the standard kaiju storyline elements, it replaces them with not-quite-as-interesting heavy-handed Socialist propaganda. Our story focuses on a long-suffering village of farmers whose informal leader is a venerable old blacksmith. Imprisoned and starved because he won't make weapons by melting down his neighbor's farming tools, he fashions his last rice ball into a tiny monster statue (a feat which, as a professional fabricator, I found pretty impressive). When his daughter accidentally drips a little of her blood on the statue, it comes to life and starts eating metal things, and that makes it grow. Little Pulgasari thwarts a public execution of the local rebel leader, but then he wanders into the woods for a while and leaves the audience to soak in more peasants wailing as the ruling class does various horrible and un-neighborly things.
An hour into the 90 minute movie Pulgasari eats enough of the enemies' swords to grow to proper kaiju size and fight the good fight alongside the farmers' rebellious army. Despite that he's still kind of a loser. Sure, the enemy cowers at his approach, but we only ever watch him nail a paltry two buildings and meanwhile he keeps getting his ass handed to him by each fool scheme the generals throw down. Pulgasari overcomes these setbacks, but each time he's out of commision the good guys take it on the chin, and by the movie's end all but one character important enough to have a name has died while doing the Right Thing.
Pulgasari sounds like a can't-miss So Bad It's Good opportunity, but in this it almost completely fails. It certainly doesn't help that the propaganda within -- that corrupt and greedy leaders can be overthrown by the will of a strong collective -- was itself the tool of a corrupt and greedy leader who ruled his country with an iron fist. If anything this movie promotes capitalism, because let's face it: agrarian socialist collectivism is wicked boring.