From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Giant reptilian movie monsters have vacationed in many international locations causing enormous inconvenience for human residents wherever they went. Most famously of course, Godzilla (and friends) frequently visited Japan and left a trail of devastation in their wake while Great Britain was ground down by Gorgo and Denmark was ripped apart by Reptilicus. In 1967 South Korea got their own city block stomping variation on The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in Yongary. They got their own King Kong too in Ape but that’s another story.
Much to the annoyance of his ready-for-bed wife an astronaut is called away from his honeymoon to pilot a rocket over a nuclear bomb test site. The bomb blast opens a big crack in the ground and the subsequent earthquake baffles the boffins at the National Space Research Centre when its epicentre starts to move in the direction of the Korean capital. It would appear that the big bang awoke a mythical creature called Yongary who according to legend has been responsible for many earthquakes throughout history. The beast is a scaly Godzilla-like reptile with a horn on the end of his snout, glowing yellow eyes and a constantly waggling tongue. He breathes fire and on occasion shoots a laser beam from his horn which is powerful enough to slice an army jeep clean in two!
Citizens are evacuated from the city and martial law is declared. Usually in movies of this kind the urban population makes a stampeding exodus in mass panic however in an interesting twist some citizens of Seoul choose to stay and get drunk, indulge in an extravagant last meal or, in the case of a group of teenagers, dance wildly in a nightclub rather than try and escape their impending destruction. Politicians, scientists and the military argue over what action to take against the rampaging reptile but are concerned that a missile attack on the beast will destroy historical landmarks. One chap insists that they must think of their nation’s future and not dwell upon the past and this oh-so-slight political sub-text adds momentary gravitas to what is otherwise an extremely silly rubber monster flick. While the men in suits prep their missiles, science boffin Illoo, and his precocious nephew Icho, stumble upon a possible chemical defence. After Icho spies Yongary slurping thirstily from a giant storage tank of oil Illoo surmises that the creature feeds on heat and is therefore allergic to cold and promptly sets about mixing up an ammonia based solution to spray over the monster.
At the time of its production ‘Yongary’ was a big budget movie by Korean standards. Japanese special effects technicians were called in to help bring the title beast to life as there was no existing precedent in the Korean film industry for this type of monster movie. Although it played theatrically in a number of territories U.S. distribution rights were bought by American International Pictures who dubbed the movie into English, cropped the picture from its original 2.35:1 scope ratio to 4:3 and released the film direct to T.V. (along with a selection of similarly truncated Gamera flicks). Strangely AIP’s English dubbing fails to give names to many core characters which makes providing a plot synopsis more difficult than usual. Director Kim Ki-Duk shouldn’t be confused with the Kim Ki-Duk currently active in Korea whose brilliant, and occasionally brutal, movies include ‘The Isle’ and ‘3 Iron’.
The films often crude special effects (including obviously toy vehicles and a lack of detail in the miniature buildings) mean that it is not on a par with the visual extravagances of Toho studios more famous monster movies however ‘Yongary’s derivative proceedings still contain much that will appeal to fans of Godzilla, Gamera, Gappa and the like. Rather than working against the film, its sometimes clunky effects are to an extent consistent with the child’s point-of-view which dominates the charmingly colourful mise en scene. The film is after all aimed primarily at children and in that respect its toy airplanes and painted skies appropriately look like they escaped from a child’s crayon scribbled imagination. Any adult viewer not charmed by such things, who is instead inclined to deride them as inept, has no doubt succumb to that peculiar brand of cynicism that means they are no longer able to find pleasure in the things that turned them on as kids without some irony being involved. Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever stop being excited by movie monsters that shoot lasers out of their horns. As in many of the Gamera movies ‘Yongary’ employs a child as protagonist to give all the kids in the audience someone close to their age who they can identify with, drawing them further into the adventure. In this instance the bravery and ingenuity of the film’s young hero not only leads to the solution that saves the city from total destruction but Icho also displays empathy for and kindness towards Yongary when all the ineffectual adults are arguing about the best way to blow it up without damaging their precious private property. Icho doesn’t judge the monster, doesn’t attach any moral motive to the animal’s behaviour, and in this respect he is presented as the most mature, and perhaps most wise, of all the characters in the film.