This is our Saturday pizza and bad movie offering, a Mystery Science Theater gem of a Godzilla imitator from Korea—except there’s more than meets the eye. Time for a glass of prosecco.
The movie begins with a wedding between Astronaut Yoo Kwang-nam (Soon-jae Lee) and the lovely Yoo Soon-a (Jeong-im Nam). As they depart for their honeymoon, brat Icho (Kwang Ho Lee) tells them he has a surprise for them.
Driving down the road, the new Mr. and Mrs. Yoo are suddenly overcome with itching and have to get out of the car. Oh, what has that little scamp done? Lucky for them, their scientist friend Il-lu (Yeong-il Oh) is driving behind them. (EW. Dude. They’re off on their honeymoon. Leave them alone.)
Il-oo finds the boy Icho hiding behind some rocks, shooting an “itch ray” at the newlyweds.
“I told you I had a surprise,” the youngster says.”
Such a lovable imp. Il-lu scolds the boy for stealing his itch ray and takes him back to the lab.
The newlyweds continue on their way.
At the hotel, Soon-a has just changed into a (modest) frilly nightgown. Kwang-nam sits staring at curtains. Or maybe it’s the sky. When she starts to snuggle (chastely) with the new hubby, the phone rings. It’s Soon-a’s dad and Kwang-nam’s boss. Kwang-nam must return to headquarters immediately. There seems to have been a nuclear test in the Middle East and he’s the only one who can fly a reconnaissance mission of it.
In a rocket.
Following the nuclear test, an earthquake strikes. The important people are puzzled. Its epicenter is moving—toward Korea!
At first blush, Yongary appears to be nothing more than Godzilla with a horn pasted on its schnoz. This is partly because Yongary looks like Godzilla with a horn pasted on its schnoz.
Most of the factual and background material in the following commentary comes from American film Steve Ryfle, commentator and Korean film journalist and blogger Kim Song-o, available here.
While no one will argue this is an art film, this version suffers from bad translations and non-Korean inability to pick up on some cultural references. I know as much about Korea as you average English speaker and do not speak a word, not even enough to ask the way to the ladies’ room.
The gods know there are goofy things galore in this flick. Sending a man into orbit to check out a nuclear explosion? An earthquake with a moving epicenter? “Itch-ray”? Um, yeah.
All but about 45 minutes of the original Korean version is lost. The version available in the States was dubbed and originally aired on TV. It was later released for home viewing.
In the commentary available on YouTube, Kim Song-o says he has read the original Korean script. The discrepancies are not major but deal mainly with generalities versus specifics. Some of the characters’ names are changed as well. For instance, the boy, called, Icho in the dubbed version, is Young. (“Icho isn’t even a Korean name!”) The scientist called Il-oo is Il-woo.
There are things that non-Koreans will inevitably miss. For example, one of the buildings Yongary smashes bears a striking resemblance to a building that the Japanese colonial government used. Patriotic helicopter pilots (…on strings…I know. Spoil the moment.) lure Yongary away from one of the historic Eight Gates in the city of Seoul, revered landmarks established in the fourteenth century.
However, if you’re paying attention (and paid attention in history class), you’ll hear that, after the nuclear test and the earthquake with the moving epicenter, Yongary emerged from a crack in the ground in Panmunjom, Korea, the city where the ceasefire of the Korean War was signed.
The movie also uses the trope of the precocious child who has an odd connection with a monster.
It is unfortunate that the English-language version can’t translate what Koreans would understand, but that is a tall order.
For the English speaker, is watching this fun? Sneering is easy, of course. I do it myself on occasion. But this film, even without understanding the cultural references, is a lot of fun. The special effects do not hold up in 2022—essentially, a guy in a rubber suit stomping on a model city and toy tanks. I personally don’t mind unconvincing special effects. They can be delightful. I’m looking for a story, and a goofy story can be fun. It doesn’t have to be Pulitzer Prize-worthy.
I realize it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, of course. But I enjoyed it. It was entertaining, silly as it was.
I couldn’t find this as a free download anywhere. Even Internet Archive charges for it.
Title: Yongary, Monster from the Deep Original title: Taekoesu Yonggary (1967)
Directed by Ki-duk Kim
Cast (in credits order)
Yeong-il Oh…Ko Il-woo (scientist)
Jeong-im Nam…Yoo Soon-a
Soon-jae Lee…Yoo Kwang-nam (as Sun-jae Lee) (astronaut)
Moon Kang…Kim Yu-ri
Kwang Ho Lee…Yoo Young (boy)
Kyoung-min Cho…Yongary (as Cho Kyoung-min)
Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes