Pulgasari, Legendary Monster

  • 1985
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Fantasy, Historical

A goofy story plus laughably crude special effects that suggest a film made in 1965 rather than 20 years later, this clunky Korean monster movie is notorious because of its bizarre back story. Well-known South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-Ok was kidnapped in 1978 (as was his ex-wife, popular actress Choi Eun-hee) on the orders of North Korean dictator Kim...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A goofy story plus laughably crude special effects that suggest a film made in 1965 rather than 20 years later, this clunky Korean monster movie is notorious because of its bizarre back story. Well-known South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-Ok was kidnapped in 1978 (as was his ex-wife, popular actress Choi Eun-hee) on the orders of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, a movie buff determined to beef up his country's film industry. Choi and Shin made a slew of films, including PULGASARI, before escaping in 1986 while on a business trip to Austria.

Set in the 14th century, it begins as the king's soldiers storm a small agrarian village and force the farmers and their families to surrender all their metal goods, from plowshares to cooking pots, so they can be made into weapons. Takse the blacksmith (Ri Gwon) is ordered to melt everything down, but he instead returns the vital implements to his neighbors and is brutally beaten and imprisoned for his trouble. Realizing that he's dying, Takse uses mud and grains of rice to mold a small figurine of Pulgasari, a folktale creature that's supposed to help the powerless. After Takse's death, his grief-stricken daughter, Ami (Chang Son-hwi), takes the little figurine home as a memento. While mending a shirt for her younger brother Ana (Ri Jong-guk) Ami pricks her finger; a few drops of blood fall on Pulgasari and bring him to life. Pulgasari eats metal and quickly grows to the size of a child. By the time Ami's boyfriend, Inde (Ham Gi-sop), is arrested and sentenced to death as a rebel, Pulgasari is man-sized and rescues him by devouring the executioners' swords. Pulgasari eventually achieves Godzilla-like stature, and the next time the king's marauding army comes around, he sends them fleeing for their lives.

The king, naturally, isn't about to stand for this challenge to his authority and puts his generals on notice that they'd better do something about Pulgasari, and do it soon. They come at Pulgasari with everything they've got, including a pair of newfangled cannons called "Lion Gun" and "General Gun." What they're too dense to get is that the more metal they throw at the creature, the bigger and stronger it gets. The villagers meanwhile realize that they have, quite literally, created a monster, and it's up to Ami to rectify the situation.

Though widely discussed as an anticapitalist allegory, the film could just as easily be read as a parable about populist leaders who grow too big for their britches and must eventually face the wrath of the common folk they've abandoned.

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  • Released: 1985
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: A goofy story plus laughably crude special effects that suggest a film made in 1965 rather than 20 years later, this clunky Korean monster movie is notorious because of its bizarre back story. Well-known South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-Ok was kidnapped in… (more)

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