Friday, June 1, 2012

Yongary, Monster from the Deep

Kaiju (怪獣 ) is a Japanese word that means "strange beast," but often translated in English as "monster".

Yongary, Monster from the Deep
Ki-duk Kim

The kaiju or giant monster film is generally thought of as a Japanese endeavor, although its origins can be traced back to the Lost World (1925) and the original King Kong (1933). Japan made a couple of King Kong features of its own, the now lost ‘Japanese King Kong’ (1933) and ‘King Kong Appears in Edo’, but it was the one-two punch of ‘Gojira’ (1954) and ‘Them’ (1954) that created a giant monster mania that still manages to live on to this day in such films as ‘Cloverfield’ (2008) and a hundred lame SyFy Channel original movies.Several other countries tried a hand at making a giant monster film, ‘Yongary’ was one of South Korea’s few kaiju films, others include a remake, ‘Yonggary’ (1999) which was released in the U.S. as ‘Reptilian’ and the critically well received, ‘The Host’ (2006).

In terms of story, Yongary is a pretty standard affair. If you’re at all familiar with kaiju tropes, they are pretty much all here. There’s the precocious kid who knows everything and ends up saving the day, the dedicated scientist who is oblivious to any advances from a woman, and the army who don’t believe in anything except throwing more tanks and missiles at the problem. Even the monster itself is a mishmash of more popular creations; He basically looks like Godzilla with a horn and less personality, he eats fire and fuel much like Gamera. The story follows the standard plot for these kinds of films: Monster stomps around breaking stuff, the army is useless trying to stop it, a kid figures out how to kill it/wants to save it, and a scientist puts together the solution.

Not that most people go into these movies looking for a clever writing, but Yongary lacks the political statement of the original ‘Gojira’, the silly fun of later Godzilla movies, or the just plain weirdness of Gamera. There aren’t much in the way of surpises, save for an utterly out of place moment where Yongary dances to go-go music (a moment sort of repeated years later in Gamera vs. Guirion, so somebody at Toei studios was watching).

One moment that did stand out were differing group’s reactions to hearing there was a huge monster approaching Seoul, most people just ran but some wealthy men sat and gorged themselves on food and booze, throwing money at everyone around them. A large group of teenagers partied away figuring they were doomed, so why bother?

The film itself looks fine, if obviously low budget. I have a soft spot for any Kaiju that shoot real fire on to things as opposed to animated flames. The models and sets aren’t convincing, but they are well made and photographed competently. The acting is surprisingly low key, there is a tendency for some over the top antics in kaiju films. Icho (Kwang Ho Lee) might be the least annoying kid in a kaiju film, he’s still agitating but I didn’t want him to get accidentally stomped until somewhere near the end.

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