Topic: The story of Pulgasari
I recently got my hands on a copy of this rare North Korean kaiju film, so I figured Iâ€™d let you guys know the wierd story behind it.
In the early 1970â€™s, Shin Sang-ok was one of South Koreaâ€™s most respected filmmakersâ€” meaning, you understand, that he was pretty much unknown outside of East Asia except among a small group of hardcore movie nerds, but on his home turf he was a big deal. Nevertheless, he had a troubled relationship with his government (which, in its way, honestly wasnâ€™t a whole lot less repressive than that of the North in those days), and it was looking increasingly like his career was pretty much over. Thatâ€™s when Kim Jong Il, son of North Korean Great Leader Kim Il Sung, entered the picture. The younger Kim has always had a reputation as a movie nut, and has even written a book on the philosophy of communist filmmaking. In the 70â€™s, one of his jobs was overseeing the Northâ€™s popular culture, and it appears to have bothered him immensely that his own country didnâ€™t have even a single director who could compare with Shin Sang-ok down south. So with Kim Il Sungâ€™s blessing (or maybe it was the old manâ€™s idea in the first placeâ€” I told you Iâ€™ve been having a hard time pinning down the details), Kim Jong Il had both Shin and his wife kidnapped and brought across the DMZ.
You might expect Shin to have been put to work making movies immediately, but thatâ€™s apparently not quite the way it happened. His dealings with the two Kims were understandably strained, and he eventually wound up in a prison camp, where he spent about five years. Then in 1983â€” and who am I to attempt to understand how a dictatorâ€™s mind works?â€” Shin was released from prison and brought before Kim Jong Il himself. The Great-Leader-in-Training had a job for Shin, one for which he believed only the captive director was suitable: Kim wanted someone to make him an epic socialist monster movie! And because he was the son of the Great Leader, he was in a position to make certain Shin got whatever he needed to deliver it. First pick of the countryâ€™s rather backward and inadequate film-industry infrastructure? Easy. Enough money to bring Tohoâ€™s special effects people over from Japan to build the monster suit and miniature sets? Can do! Squads of actual soldiers to serve as extras in the battle scenes? No problem! And by every indication, Shin was surprisingly devoted to the project, even to the extent that when he finally escaped from Kimâ€™s clutches, he shot a remake of Pulgasari for the free world. But even an artistâ€™s devotion has its limits, and Shin was not about to forego a chance to flee the country just so that he could put the finishing touches on a movie. When opportunity knocked in 1985, Shin and his wife skipped town immediately, leaving Pulgasari to be completed by a different director. Maybe it was the escape of its creator that turned the Kims sour on Pulgasari, leading them either to ban it or to allow it to languish unseen for some thirteen years. Or maybe there was something in the content of the movie itself that offended them. Sure Pulgasari tells the story of a peasant revolt in the middle ages that is aided by the power of an indestructible monster, but thereâ€™s more than one political spin you could put on a movie in which the downtrodden rise up against a cruel tyrant who starves them in order to build up the most powerful army his limited resources can buy. And even if you donâ€™t make the connection that the movieâ€™s evil king could represent North Koreaâ€™s current leaders just as easily as its old ones, thereâ€™s simply no getting around the point that Pulgasari depicts the peopleâ€™s savior in the fight against tyranny turning into their own worst enemy once that tyranny has fallen. So perhaps thatâ€™s why what is probably the worldâ€™s only communist kaiju flick ended up vanishing off the face of the earth between the time of its completion and its own breakout across the DMZ in the late 1990â€™s.
You watch the whole movie here for free.