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Japanese theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Shin Sang-ok|
Chong Gon Jo
|Produced by||Kim Jong-il|
|Written by||Kim Se Ryun|
|Music by||So Jong Gon|
|Edited by||Kim Ryon Sun|
Korean Film Studio
|Distributed by||Korean Film Studio|
Pulgasari (Chosŏn'gŭl: 불가사리; RR: Bulgasari) is a 1985 North Korean dark fantasy-action monster film directed by Shin Sang-ok and Chong Gon Jo. The film starred Chang Son Hui and Pak Sung Ho and featured special effects by Duk Ho Kim, supervised by Teruyoshi Nakano. The film was loosely based on the legend of the Bulgasari.
Director Shin had been kidnapped in 1978 by North Korean intelligence on the orders of Kim Jong-il, son of the then-ruling Kim Il-sung, and was coerced into making several films as a director, with Pulgasari being his last North Korean film before he and his wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, escaped to the United States.
In feudal Korea, during the Goryeo Dynasty, a king controls the land with an iron fist, subjecting the peasantry to misery and starvation. An old blacksmith who was sent to prison for defending his people creates a tiny figurine of a monster by making a doll of rice, and before dying asks the gods of earth and sky to make his creation a living creature that protects the rebels and the oppressed. When the figurine comes into contact with the blood of the blacksmith's daughter, the creature springs to life, becoming a giant metal-eating monster whom the blacksmith's daughter names Pulgasari, which is the name of the mythical monster her father used to mention as an eater of iron and steel. Pulgasari now shares a special bond with the blacksmith's daughter, and after he starts eating some of the farmer's tools, becomes a giant and powerful figure.
After much suffering, the peasants form an army, storm the palace of the region's Governor and kill him. Soon after the evil King becomes aware that there is a rebellion being planned in the country, and he intends to crush it, but he runs into Pulgasari, who fights with the peasant army to overthrow the corrupt monarchy. Pulgasari wins many battles because of his unending hunger for all kind of metal, readily provided by its enemies. Nevertheless, after capturing and executing the leader of the rebellion (who was also the future husband of the blacksmith's daughter), the King's army threatens to kill the blacksmith's daughter if Pulgasari does not surrender. Pulgasari lets itself be traped to save the woman, and the royal army apparently kill the creature by burying it under the ground. After escaping, the blacksmith's daughter revives Pulgasari by again pouring some of her blood on the burial site. Pulgasari grows strong once more and attacks the King's palace, destroying it and simultaneously killing the King.
After the defeat of the King, Pulgasari becomes a new problem, since he starts eating the rebel's weapons and farmer's tools, which are given to the creature without objection, since the peasants still believe Pulgasari is a benign saviour. The blacksmith's daughter realizes that Pulgasari's hunger will never stop, and that he is inadvertently oppresing the people he fought for. She decides to sacrifice herself by hiding inside a big bell that Pulgasari finds and quickly eats. Pulgasari yells in anguish as the blacksmith's daughter presence in its system causes its stomach to explode, tragically killing both of them, but saving the people once and for all.
Kim was a lifelong admirer of the director, as well as Godzilla and other kaiju films. He kidnapped the former director and his wife, famous actress Choi Eun-hee, with the specific purpose of making fantasy/propaganda films for the North Korean government. Kim Jong-il also produced Pulgasari (through Korean Film Studio) and all the films that Sang-ok made before he and Choi managed to escape from their minders while on a festival tour in Austria. Specifically, the film was inspired by The Return of Godzilla. The staff from Japan's Toho Studios, the creators of Godzilla, participated in creating the film's special effects. They were tricked into coming as they thought they were filming in China.
Kenpachiro Satsuma was quoted as saying he preferred Pulgasari to TriStar's Godzilla. There has been some speculation that the director Shin Sang-ok included a hidden message of his own in the film; the monster of the movie was to be interpreted as a metaphor for Kim Il-sung betraying a people's revolution for his own purposes.
After finding out that his credit was removed from the movie, Shin Sang-ok also wrote a remake called The Adventures of Galgameth. In 2006, Pulgasari made its New York debut at the end of Columbia University Japanese culture center's yearlong “Godzilla” festival.
Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee's story
Pulgasari has gained some popularity over the years because of the shocking story of Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee's kidnapping at the hands of North Korea's government. During their strange captivity in the country Shin and Choi were, respectively, director and leading actress in a number of North Korean films produced by Kim Jong-il. The director and leading actress made together a total of seven films, for which the couple – who were separated before their kidnapping – was simultaneously commissioned and forced to do by North Korea's government. However, Pulgasari does not feature Choi. Pulgasari was made in 1985, the same year that Shin's North Korean films Salt and The Tale of Shim Chong were released. It was the last film directed by Shin before he and Choi escaped to the United States.
- Abduction of Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee
- Culture of North Korea
- List of North Korean films
- List of films set in or about North Korea
- Propaganda in North Korea
- Peralta, Eyder (December 19, 2011). "'Pulgasari': Kim Jong Il's Giant Monster Film". The Two-Way. National Public Radio. Retrieved September 25, 2017.
- Backrow Banter, The Dear Leader, The Director And The Director’s Wife
- Gorenfeld, John (3 April 2003). "The producer from hell" – via The Guardian.
- Choe, Sang-Hun; Torchia, Christopher (2002). "Eat, Eat: Rice Is Everything". How Koreans Talk. pp. 024–025. ISBN 89-87976-95-5.
He ate like a Bulgasari eating metal.
- Romano, Nick (April 6, 2015). "How Kim Jong Il Kidnapped a Director, Made a Godzilla Knockoff, and Created a Cult Hit". HWD. Condé Nast. Retrieved September 25, 2017.
- "A KIM JONG IL PRODUCTION". New Yorker. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
- Taylor, Ben. Apocalypse on the Set: Nine Disastrous Film Productions. Overlook Hardcover. pp. 168–169. ISBN 146830013X.
- First NK Monster Faces Hollywood-Born Godzilla in Japan Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine. The People's Korea
- Schönherr, Johannes (2012). North Korean Cinema: A History. Jefferson: McFarland. pp. 81–82. ISBN 978-0-7864-6526-2.}