February 16, 2008

PULGASARI (1985) - it came from North Korea!

(1985, North Korea)

Bought this on VideoCD hoping to see a lost giant monster classic, but on reflection it's better off lost. Hard to see a nice presentation of this, since it's from North Korea, and it only crept out of the country in 1998. Not hard to see why, and I'm a fan of 'men in rubber suits stomping on toy tanks' genre.

It's a crazy story set in Korea 1000 years ago, when an evil Emperor kept his people in place with an iron fist. Boo! Well, the downtrodden people pray for help and up pops baby Pulgasari, who just loves eating iron fists. In fact, the more iron it eats, the bigger it gets, until it towers over the Emperor's army and eats his guns. The downtrodden populus then have to figure out how to get rid of the monster…

This may sound more fun than it is. There's a long wait for the monster action to kick in, especially since the first monster is tiny (a mixture of glove puppet and man-in-suit in overscaled sets), then man-sized (man-in-suit in man-size sets), before turning gigantic (man-in-suit in tiny scale sets, Godzilla-style). The young monster is fairly childish, acting a lot like the Son of Godzilla (1967) - which cinematically, is not a good look.

Actually, the big-guy suit is very robust and detailed, and the models he stamps on are huge and well-made (thanks, apparently, to a Japanese FX team). But the action is uninteresting and there's a lack of interaction with the actors. When the monster isn't around, the human sets look low enough to be for TV, a lot like The Water Margin used to look. The wigs and fake facial hair look like TV standard as well, making it all very hard to take seriously.

Added to that, it's trying to portray land-owners and kings as bad people - a monster movie as communist propaganda, this is precisely the sort of film the McCarthy commission warned would happen!

The Thai VideoCD I watched was presented in an aspect ratio best descibed as '4x3 squashed'. It was dubbed cheaply into Thai, with the music & fx obliterated by any added Thai dialogue, with no attempt to mix it in.

Not much fun to be had, though there's a much more interesting story about the making of the film, and how Kim Jong-Il oversaw the kidnapping of a South Korean movie director, in order to make several films for him, including this one!
Here's a detailed account of the real-life story...

I talk about more Korean giant monsters, old and new, in this article here.

If you really want to sample Pulgasari's dubious delights, I recently discovered that the entire film, English subtitled, is on Google Video

There's also more Pulgasari facts and screengrabs here at Stomp Tokyo.

I can't find the VCD online anywhere, but Japan released it on DVD in 2004.


  1. Hi. I'm from Korea. It is very interesting to me that there's Thai VCD of Pulgasari. Could you tell me where you obtained it? I would very much like to buy it, if possible.


  2. Hi Loomis, can't find the VCD online anywhere - I think I bought it in Thailand.

    I've just found that it was on DVD in Japan, and it's still on Google Video, if you try and follow the link in above article.

  3. Also, Loomis, I'd like to talk to you more about Korean cinema. It's really difficult to get information in English about new Korean movies and DVDs.
    You're English is really good and you obviously have a similar taste in movies. I'm sorry I can't read you blog!
    I can always send you the Pulgasari VCD if you can't find it anywhere else.

  4. Thanks for your comments. I already own Korean VHS and Japanese DVD of Pulgasari. The Thai VCD was for sheer collection(the artwork looks interesting!).

    And if you would like to know any information about Korean cinema, feel free to let me know. I can share anything I could find. You can comment on my blog or mail to 'loomis@empal.com'.

    I also write for a site called SciFi Japan(http://www.scifijapan.com). It's an English-written site specializing in Asian genre cinema, so I think it will help you a lot.

    Glad to know someone with similar interests! :-)

  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCKSR0JArUQ
    Pulgasari (1985)
    North Korean with english subtitle (FULL MOVIE)