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Kaiju Classics - Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967) Review
Following the success of the original 1954 Godzilla, movie companies around the world saw the potential of giant monster movies, and quickly threw their hats into the ring in order to get their share of this film market. For roughly the next decade, the science fiction genre saw dozens of movies featuring giant monsters born of, or released from hibernation by, the atomic age or military might, and these creatures would, through their attacks on major cities of the world, show mankind how powerless they are. Though the monsters may not necessary look like him, because of the similar nature of their origins, their motives, and their actions, these creatures are often referred to as "Godzilla clones".
Though considered one of the front runners of the modern giant monster movie genre with movies such as "Dragon Wars" and "The Host", South Korea's first outing in this particular area was the production of one of these "clones", the 1967 film "The Great Monster Yonggary", otherwise known as "Yongary, Monster from the Deep".
The Great Monster Yonggary was produced in 1967 by the renowned Keukdong Entertainment Company and directed by famed Korean director Kim Ki-duk, responsible for such movies as "Five Marines", "The Barefooted Young", and "The Young Teacher". Work began on the project in late 1966 after Keukdong Ent. corporation heads expressed interest in wanting to pursue new genres and noticed the popularity and success of the giant monster craze sweeping Japan and the United States.
This being their first attempt at making a giant monster movie, Keukdong Entertainment sought assistance from Japan's Toei Co., Ltd for the special effects, and brought in leading members of the special effects house EX Production, Akira Suzuki and Masao Yagi. Having been responsible for the design of the monster suits used in Daiei's "Giant Monster Gamera" two years earlier, the pair quickly helped bring the Yonggary design to life.
The name Yonggary, according to Kim Ki-duk, was derived from "Yong", the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese word "Long", meaning "dragon", and "-ari", taken from a mythological creature known as the "pulgasari", a dragon-like monster, capable of eating metal, that was created by members of a village to protect it from attacking armies. It was this dragon motif that let to the dinosaur-like appearance of the monster in the film.
The Cast of Yongary
Ko Il-woo - Oh Young-il
Yoo Soon-a - Nam Jeong-im
Yoo Young - Lee Kwang-ho
Yoo Kwang-nam - Lee Soon-jae
Kim Yu-ri - Kang Moon
Yonggary - Cho Kyoung-min
A newlywed couple, Yoo Kwang-nam and his wife, Kim Yu-ri, set off for their honeymoon as their families begin discussing about the two's future together. Yu-ri's father then asks when Kwang-nam's sister, Soon-a, will also marry, who jokes that marrying her boyfriend, scientist Ko Il-woo, would be like marrying a computer. Trying to feign off frustration over Soon-a's comment, Il-woo tells everyone that he has a good deal of research he's still needing to do and heads back to his laboratory. Soon-a's father, South Korea's prime minister, suggests that they shouldn't make fun of Il-woo because he's well on his way to being the head of his field.
In their car, Kwang-nam and Yu-ri begin wondering why Yu-ri's younger brother, Young, wasn't at the wedding, saying that he mentioned he had a "surprise" for them. Suddenly, a small white light begins flashing on them, and the two begin to find themselves feeling very itchy. Along the side of the road, hidden from clear view, is a young boy, laughing as he continues shining the light at them with a large, flashlight-like device. Il-woo, coming up on the couple's car as they're climbing out of it, asks them what's going on. Recognizing the symptoms, Il-woo begins to laugh and shouts over towards the side of the road for Young to come out. He approaches them with the device behind his back, but then gives it up when Il-woo tells him to. Kwang-nam and Yu-ri, not wanting to be late, leave, and Young tells Il-woo that he took the device from Il-woo's lab, thinking that it'd make for a funny wedding present.
They begin to discuss that the device Young had taken from Il-woo's laboratory was an experimental light ray, and that he shouldn't play around with things like that since the side-effects to people are unknown. The boy says he thought that's what it was, and so he tested it, and Il-woo can report that it has adverse effects on newlyweds.
On the first night of their honeymoon, Yu-ri begins lamenting over the idea that she must be a terrible wife and that their marriage is doomed, as Kwang-nam is seemingly bored with her. Convincing her that it's because he was tense, and that he's always tense when he gets married, the two begin to kiss, only to be interrupted by a phone call. Yu-ri's father, the head of Korea's space control center, tells Kwang-nam that they need him to fly into space to do reconnaissance on the Middle East, after reports have come in of potential nuclear weapons tests in the area. Yu-ri tries to convince her father to find someone else, but he explains that Kwang-nam is the only one able to handle such a mission, and that he'd make sure Kwang-nam received a two-week vacation to make up for this interruption to their honeymoon.
Kwang-nam's rocket flight commences the next day, and begins his geosynchronous orbit around Earth when a nuclear explosion, in an unspecified area near Korea, begins to affect radio transmissions to and from the space capsule. The explosion also forced the ground to split open, forming a large fault in the ground from which jets of steam erupt. After a prolonged period without contact from the capsule, Kwang-nam is finally able to contact the control center, and he's given coordinates for where he's to land.
As he begins his descent, an earthquake, with an epicenter moving in a direct line for the heart of Korea, forms. Soon after he Kwang-nam lands, a scientific and military committee is organized to analyze this strange earthquake, and the consensus is that it is defying all scientific logic and that preparations to evacuate the population in the path of the tremor are to be made, but actions not be taken until it's certain to arrive so as to not rouse unnecessary panic.
That night, the United Nations contacts South Korea, informing them that they'll be sending a scientific team to help in the investigation of the phenomena. Immediately, a warning comes out that the epicenter is nearing the province of Hwanghae, prompting the Prime Minister to give the go ahead to declare martial law to prepare for the impending devastation.
The next day, a number of photojournalists and news reporters are awaiting near the epicenter's path when a large chasm opens up from the ground, spewing out jets of steam and large chunks of rock. Slowly rising from beneath the surface, the back and spines of a large reptilian creature comes into view, causing everyone there to run off in a panic, though one of the photographers there is able to take a few pictures before jumping into a jeep. The driver though, in a panic from what he's seen, is carelessly taking to the mountain roads too quickly, and careens off the side; the jeep erupting into a ball of flames as it plummets down the cliff.
Back in the committee room, the Prime Minister and his military advisor begin talking about how this earthquake reminds them of a legendary creature known as "Yonggary", when the photographer, badly wounded from the crash, is brought in by two soldiers, insisting that they need to see what he caught on film. When reviewing the footage, they see images of the monster, and immediately announce to the public about Yonggary's appearance and that measures are being taken by the military to prepare for the monster should it attack.
The wait for the monster is short, as Yonggary soon makes its way to the surface, and several tank divisions are mobilized to intercept him. Their shelling proves ineffectual against the monster though as it shrugs off the attack before destroying one tank with a stream of fire from its mouth and crushing another under its foot.
Il-woo decides that he needs to see Yonggary for himself, hoping that maybe he can locate some weakness on the monster that the military hasn't discovered. Young goes off to follow him, despite his mother's insistence he remains, and Soon-a leaves to try to bring both of them back. The population of Seoul City react to the monster's impending attack in various ways, with some seeking religious salvation and others, seeing no use in running since the monster will undoubtedly follow, choose to remain and dance, eat, and drink instead.
Il-woo and Young make their way through the damaged city as Yonggary continues forward, tearing through buildings with its enormous body or swing its tail like a battering ram against their walls. Soon-a eventually makes her way to them and convinces them that they need to leave the area, but during their escape attempt, a piece of building strikes Il-woo in his shoulder, wounding him. In the confusion, Young is separated from the two, and takes to the sewers for safety.
Yonggary's path is taking it towards the Pavilion of the Moon, a Korean national landmark, and it is feared that any missile bombardment might destroy it as well, but a low-flying military helicopter is able to draw the monster's attention and cause it to start going back the way it came.
Young manages to reach an oil refinery and sees that the monster has also arrived at it, tearing off the top of one of the storage tanks before beginning to drink the oil. Puzzled at first, Young quickly goes and shuts off the oil flow. Angered by the loss of food, Yonggary strikes at another storage tank with its tail, causing a cloud of white dust to billow out from it that coats the monster. Young notices that the white powder is causing Yonggary to scratch and rub at itself fiercely in an attempt to get it off, suggesting that the powder is causing it pain or irritation.
Young returns home and tells Il-woo about the white powder he saw affect Yonggary, and the two of them and Soon-a go back to the refinery to see what the chemical might have been. They are stopped by guards before they could get close to the refinery, who tell him that a series of guided missiles will be used on the monster shortly, and Il-woo quickly leaves for the committee headquarters. He tells them that feeding on oil indicates that Yonggary consumes heat and fuel sources, and that the missile attacks would simply make him stronger. Il-woo recommends that if they have to fire the missiles, that they at least lure the monster away from the city by opening the fuel lines of another fuel depot some ways away.
Kwang-nam and Yu-ri visit Il-woo in his lab, who tells Kwang-nam that he'll need a helicopter, and believes that he knows that the chemical that affected Yonggary was a precipitate of ammonia. Young, waiting for the others to leave, takes Il-woo's experimental light device and leaves for the refinery. Upon reaching it and attempting to lure it away towards the other depot, he begins to shine the light onto Yonggary, its horn pulsating with light as a response to the beam. As the monster reaches the depot and begins to feed from it, Kwang-nam and Il-woo reach Yonggary and begin coating it in ammonia, which instantly begins to irritate and weaken it. However, the missiles are launched, which do nothing but supply the creature with more energy as a thunderstorm forms in the area, washing away some of the ammonia. Despite the strength received from the missile explosions and the rain washing away some of the ammonia, its effects cause Yonggary to collapse to the ground. Convinced that the ammonia is the right approach, but the particular precipitate used was wrong, Il-woo and the others return to the lab.
Young slips out with the light device again as Il-woo is busy preparing other forms of ammonia precipates and the others are asleep, heading back to the refinery where Yonggary's unconscious body remained. The boy begins to shine the light onto the creature, whose horn begins to flash again before it wakes up. Another barrage of missiles are fired at Yonggary, but, like before, the military's attack proves to be little more than a nuisance to the monster as it makes its way back into the city, demonstrating a new beam attack from its horn in the process.
A squadron of jets arrive and begin to attack Yonggary, but quickly fall to its fire breath and beam attacks. Il-woo, Kwang-nam, and the others arrive in the helicopter again, dousing the monster repeatedly with a refined version of the precipitate used the night before. Its movement slowing and its strength fading, the ammonia eventually topples the mighty Yonggary; the monster bleeding out into the river that it collapsed into.
Later, during a celebration of Yonggary's defeat, Young tells the press that he knows that the monster was a danger, but that it was simply looking for food and humanity was in its way, so it shouldn't have been to blame. Il-woo, wanting to fulfill one of Young's wishes, proposes to Soon-a, and Young promptly says that soon, they might have a brat like him of their own.
The Effects and Music
For this being South Korea's first outing into the giant monster genre, Yonggary was an ambitious project. EX Production had worked a number of times on the Gamera series, and the design of the monster's suit strongly reflects this, incorporating elements very reminiscent of the Showa Gamera series. The suit itself is one of the stronger effects for the most part, not looking real but at the same time being a far more successful effect than some of the other monsters of the genre that appeared in that time frame.
Unfortunately, the effects as a whole were one of the weaker points of the movie. Yonggary's fire breath was produced by a blow torch within one of the heads used for the monster's effect, and the nozzle could clearly be seen during some of the scenes when he's blasting fire. The sets were decent and looked realistic enough when it came to Yonggary destroying them, but when it came to actors interacting with the rubble, it wasn't hard to tell that they were pieces of styrofoam or (in the case of bricks) cardboard boxes.
Vehicles also weren't done all that well. Though it's common for vehicles shot for effect purposes to be models or toys, in Yonggary's case it was very obvious, especially when it came to the photojournalist's jeep earlier in the film, which was done by setting a toy jeep on fire and tossing it down a small cliff. Speaking of jeeps, one of the most glaring mistakes in the movie happens when Yonggary uses his beam attack for the first time, slicing a jeep in half. To keep the front half of the jeep stable, an additional wheel was placed under its frame, and when we see the jeep split apart, the angle it is filmed in shows the wheel very plainly.
The music doesn't really help the movie very much. Though the tone of the music fits the scene that it accompanies, they're overall a bit too subtle in really conveying much emotion. It seems more that the music was there in order to keep the scene from being quiet rather than actually helping to enhance them.
Despite the movie's flaws, I enjoyed the movie for the most part. It had some more absurd moments to it, but one of the best things about movies of this genre is needing to leave your brain at the door when you watch them.
If I had one major complaint about this movie, it'd be the character of Young. To me, it felt that he was added solely to make the initial ammonia discovery, and then the rest of the film he's just there to play up the fact that he's an annoying, irritating, brat of a child. As a whole, I feel he could have been left out of the movie and little would have been lost in total.
Still, because this was South Korea's first outing, the shortcomings can be forgiven, and, as a whole, this is a rather enjoyable movie that I'd recommend to those not looking for something too serious.