Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Pulgasari; Fantasy, North Korea, 1985; D: Chong Gon Jo, Sang-ok Shin, S: Chang Son Hui, Ham Gi Sop, Jong-uk Ri, Gwon Ri

Korea in Medieval times. Inde, a young lad, joins the rebels to fight against the king and his harsh rules. Inde and his uncle, a blacksmith, get arrested by the guards and brought to prison. Before the uncle dies, he makes a small dragon like statue out of rice, calls it Pulgasari, and wishes it will save the farmers. His daughter, Ami, one day discovers the 2 inch statue came to life and started eating iron. With time, Pulgasari becomes 6 foot tall and helps release Inde. When the monster grows over 30 foot tall and aides the rebels, the king orders a general to stop it. But despite a cage, the monster destroys king's castle. But it wants more and more iron and the farmers don't have any left. So Ami sacrifices herself - she gets eaten by Pulgasari which dies.

In the entire history of the first 50 years of it's existence, North Korea produced only some 40 films. And you really have to wonder what kind of movies they make, when the authors have to watch their every step not to accidentally offend any of the political elite. Some critics thus call their dramas "fake dramas". Out of pure curiosity, there are numerous of movie buffs who would love to just take a small "peak" into one of their achievements, just to see how it looks like in North Korea. It's such an isolated country that nobody knows almost anything about it, which is why even one ordinary North Korean tree looks exotic and "unseen". "Pulgasari", a monster fantasy film set in the Medieval Korea (probably to avoid any political connotations in the present), is definitely a cult flick and one can't even begin to name what's more bizarre in it: the fact that Kim Jong Il had his agents kidnap (!) South Korean director Shin Sang Ok in order for him to direct movies for North Korea, or the silly monster in the rubber suit that's suppose to make a competition to "Godzilla".

Despite cheesy "special effects", theatrical acting and bizarre scenes (Ami throws rice to her uncle through the prison window; the small 2 inch tall Pulgasari eats a needle; thousands of rebels run through the meadow while a 50 foot tall Pulgasari walks in the horizon behind them as a logistical "support"...) the film is made with a purpose because it has a political subtext: it's main message is that people should be loyal to the government, no matter how bad it treats them, because it knows what's best for them. Here the farmers rebel against the king (Communism) and use monster Pulgasari as a weapon and a cause that could give them an alternative (Capitalism), but it quickly turns as an even worse option, since it consumes more and more and the farmers can't feed it anymore. Many actors, like the main actress Chang Son Hui, give their best despite their thin roles, while the costumes are all solid, but throughout the entire story it's clear that everything is heavy handed and blatant. As a whole, the film is definitely trash (and what else to expect when propaganda and fantasy blend together?) but it's a cult film because it's so bizarre.


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