Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Taekoesu Yonggary (1967)

... aka: Great Monster Yongary, The
... aka: Monster Yonggari
... aka: Yongary
... aka: Yongary, Monster of the Deep
... aka: Yongkari, Monster of the Deep

Directed by:
Ki-duk Kim

I'm not a huge fan of older giant monster movies from Asia so I'm not sure what exactly possessed me to watch Yongary this evening. Was it because I liked the colorful poster, which promised fire-breathing reptile action, rockets, helicopters and fighter jets? Was it because it's been awhile since I've actually sat through one of these things? Was it because this was actually produced in South Korea instead of the Kaiju mecca of Japan and I was hoping for something maybe a little different? Or was it because I'm desperate to update my Y index and started running out of titles? I cannot say for sure, but what's done is done. Despite the change in location, this doesn't stray far at all from the familiar Godzilla format. It's your standard issue man-in-a-rubber-suit monster stomping around on model sets stuff. In fact, this could easily be seen as a Godzilla rip-off, cause that's pretty much what it is. Not only does it have a near-identical plot, but even the creature design (a simple upright-walking lizard), the creature's ability to shoot fire from its mouth and even the weird elephant-like sound that comes out of the creature's mouth are very Godzilla-like.

During the first, monster-free 20 minutes we meet dedicated young scientist Elu (Yeong-il Oh), whose famous scientist father "died of overwork" himself, his would-be girlfriend Suna (Jeong-im Nam), who actually doesn't seem to like him all that much, an annoying, thieving little 8-year-old named Icho (Kwang Ho Lee) and a pair of newlyweds; an astronaut and his wife. On the night of his honeymoon, the astronaut is called away by government officials to do some kind of top secret 2-day reconnaissance mission over the Middle East to see if they're doing secret nuclear testing. While he's in orbit, a strange and powerful earthquake begins, which cuts off his radio signal. Panic lends to relief as he safely returns to Earth, but what exactly caused such violent tremors in the first place? Why, it was just Yongary shifting around under the Earth's surface. A crack forms and the giant, hungry lizard pops out. The military is called in to try to extinguish the threat but, as the beast casually withstands bullet hits and missiles attacks, they soon discover taking this sucker out isn't as easy as they initially thought. And I hope you're not as bored reading this as I am writing it...

Yongary does the usual routine on Seoul while terrified people run through the streets screaming. He reduces buildings to rubble with the swipe of a hand or the wag of a tail. He rips up electric lines. Toy tanks shoot at him so he roasts them with his fire-breath and stomps on them. He shoots down jets with a laser that comes out of his horn. He picks up a guy and eats him. Some moments are actually very funny and there are some great random "What the f" things that occur here and there. Spaced-out people at a dance club and men pigging out in a restaurant refuse to stop what they're doing even with the monster fast approaching. From out of nowhere, some guy shuffles through the streets with a giant cross shouting "Repent you sinners!" Yongary loves to drink oil and gasoline but, when he's deprived his tasty treat, he does this hilarious shuffle-dance as rock music plays. My favorite moment, though, is when the monster first emerges from the Earth and he yawns and stretches. Yawngary!

On the downside, this movie may have the most irritating little kid ever seen in one of these things. His idea of a prank is blinding drivers with a laser ray so that they almost crash and die, he never listens to his mother and keeps running off and getting himself into dangerous situations. However, I must admit that I did actually start liking the brat toward the very end simply because he was the only person who seemed to show a glimmer of humanity in regards to the beast. On the plus side, the miniature model sets aren't all terrible. Some are actually quite good. The monster suit (save for the eyeballs) isn't bad, either. It's all pretty fun, upbeat and amusing in a juvenile kind of way and, damn it, if I didn't find myself feeling kind of bad for poor Yongary when it was time for him to take an ammonia bath and shuffle off this mortal coil.

Historically, Yongary is actually a bit more than a Godzilla rip; it was also the very first notable genre film to be made in South Korea. Because of its notoriety in its homeland, the creature was unearthed (literally) again for Hyung-rae Shim's Reptilian (aka 2001 Yonggary); which remains the most expensive film ever produced in South Korea. Starting in the late 90s, the South Korean film industry finally got the attention of genre fans on a global scale with such cross-over hits as the Whispering Corridors series (1998-2004), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), R-Point (2004), The Red Shoes (2005) and The Host (2006).


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