Wednesday, September 5, 2012


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

YONGARY, MONSTER OF THE DEEP was presumably South Korea's first contribution to Japan's *kaiju* ("giant monster") genre.  Though it doesn't touch the best of the Japanese works, YONGARY does have a few interesting quirks to it.

The film unquestionably borrows tricks from Godzilla's bag, in that it deals with a giant, fire-breathing reptillian monster awakened from subterranean hibernation by an atomic blast.  The lanky, horn-nosed reptile isn't visually impressive, and at times a metal tube is visible in his mouth when he breathes fire.  He has the peculiar quirk of feeding on modern-day petrochemicals such as gasoline, a trait that's never explained.  I thought maybe he used to feed on the sort of critters that got converted into petroleum due to eons of subterranean pressure, but Wikipedia helpfully tells me that most of the oil-critters were zooplankton, which doesn't seem to make for much of a diet for a tyrannosaurus-sized beastie.  Too bad Yongary didn't appear about twelve years later: a gasoline-devouring monster would've had greater resonance during 1979's energy crisis.

The plot begins on a odd note: the very night a handsome young scientist gets married, his father-in-law interrupts his honeymoon to send the fellow into space.  Granting that many fathers-in-law may evince similar feelings toward their sons-in-law at that juncture, the scientist's jaunt in a space capsule seems a little counterintuitive.  All he ends up doing at the behest of said father-in-law-- some sort of Korean military figure-- is to fly above the site of a burgeoning earthquake caused by atomic testing in "the Middle East."  He doesn't really do anything of consequence while in his little capsule-- he's not even the first to spot the recrudescent Yongary-- but maybe the scripter felt that there should be this much connection between Yongary and the human who will slay him.

Yongary arises; Yongary invades cities looking for gasoline to drink; Yongary smashes lots of real estate.  Most of Korea flees his approach, though one person-- Icho, the 9-year-old little brother of the scientist's bride-- sympathizes with the giant monster.  At one point in the film, Icho even manages to catch the giant creature's attention with a flashlight, which somehow inspires the beast with the desire to dance a little dance!

Based on his study of the creature, the scientist warns his pigheaded father-in-law that conventional weapons won't stop Yongary, but Big Daddy won't listen.  Off go the rockets, and Yongary appears to fall dead from the explosions.  Everyone congratulates everyone until Yongary gets up in a really bad mood.  Thus it falls to the scientist to figure out Yongary's Achilles heel, which he does, though not without a little mild opposition from Icho.

The one interesting "cosmological" aspect of YONGARY is that the title creature, while not exceptionally well conceived, is still at base a big animal.  From the first Godzilla seems less like a beast than like a living apocalypse.  Some giant critters have been infused with some protective attitude toward humans, like Mothra and Gamera, while yet others are the tools of alien masters, like Ghidrah.  But from start to finish, Yongary really does seem like nothing but a big animal with the misfortune to encounter a species of animal much meaner than he is.

ADDENDA, 10-31-16: Upon re-examining the end scenes of the film, I've determined that there is enough back-and-forth between Yongary and the Korean air force to justify calling the film a "combative drama." The FX are not as well-managed of those of either the mid-range Godzillas or any of the Gameras, but there is more combat here than I noted earlier.

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