Pulgasari (1985)

Genres - Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Creature Film, Period Film  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - Korea, North   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Synopsis by Nathan Southern

Set in feudal times, this bizarre monster picture opens with an ongoing struggle between the minions of an evil king and a group of beleaguered peasants; the malevolent monarch steals the iron cooking pots and farming implements from the working-class folk, and begins to incarcerate and execute their leaders. In response, a dying old prisoner prays to the gods to bring his people deliverance via the mythical being of the title. The Pulgasari soon arrives, initially as a horned and scaled, dragon-like creature of pint-sized stature (played by an actor in a clever costume). Though the beast seems diminutive and harmless enough to invite the description of "cute" from an onlooker, it begins devouring every piece of iron in sight (including sewing needles and then swords) - and as it does, it grows meteorically and eventually assumes Godzilla-like proportions, poised to rampage the aristocracy. Though it has a look virtually indistinguishable from Japanese monster pictures of the '50s, '60s and '70s, Pulgasari in fact emerged from North Korea under the supervision of dictator Kim Jong-Il. Acclaimed director Shin Sang-ok and his wife had been kidnapped from South Korea and imprisoned in the North for five years by Jong-Il's men. In 1983, however, Jong-il pulled Sang-ok out of jail and commissioned him to direct propaganda movies. The despot apparently wanted to use Pulgasari to spread collectivist ideology to the world at the height of the Cold War. Instead - and for reasons that are not entirely clear, but that may have to do with the film's blatant kitschiness - this opus was widely banned and went unseen in North or South Korea for a decade, until it eventually arrived on video and became something of a cult favorite among sci-fi and fantasy aficionados. Meanwhile, Sang-ok and his wife found political asylum while attending the 1986 Venice Film Festival as representatives of North Korea, and spent the next 20 years living in exile in the United States, where Sang-ok produced several of the 3 Ninjas movies. He died in early 2006.



conquest, demon, emperor, revenge, village