Yongary

Yee - Haw!

Do you ever have one of those days where all you want to do is watch a mindless kaiju movie complete with a rubber-suited monster smashing a model city, shot at by miniature tanks, padded with scenes of oddly dubbed actors who are taking the whole thing as serious as a heart attack?  I do.  I know that you do too, or you’d probably not be sitting there reading this while you wait for that porn torrent to finish downloading     . . . Mom.

When you get that kaiju itch, nothing scratches it like the giant clawed fingers of Godzilla.  Suppose that, like other great actors such as Olivier, Richardson, and O’Toole, Godzilla had, on the rare occasion, to be filled in for by his understudy, maybe he had a terrible cold or pulled a muscle – what then?  Tonight, I bring you Godzilla’s understudy – Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967).

Yongary could reasonably be viewed as a cynical Korean rip-off of kiaju movies that were both Toho and Daiei’s bread and butter, particularly in the overseas markets with their Godzilla and Gamera series’ respectively.  Coming up with something new in the kaiju genre is a tall order, and by the time Yongary was made, Toho and Daiei had pretty much done everything you could do with a kaiju movie – twice.  Of course, that’s not going to stop studios from cashing in if they think they have a shot at making some easy jack, especially if they could get into the American market, which for Yongary came in the form of a  television distribution deal with American International Pictures.  I don’t think that most Americans who caught this on television back in the day would have noticed that it was a Korean movie.  I imagine that more than a few didn’t even realize that it wasn’t a Godzilla film.  But you and I know different.

So what’s it all about? A nuclear weapon is detonated in the Middle East, and we’re never told by whom or why.  Maybe Ahmadinejad flipped the wrong switch, thinking that the sign above it read “lunch” rather than “launch” ala Far Out Space Nuts and inadvertently blasts Tehran into a billion tiny radioactive pieces.  I dunno.   It doesn’t matter all that much to the plot unfolding before us. To verify and gather information about blast, the South Korean government launches a manned space capsule into orbit.  We are in science fiction country and crossing into fantasy. Shortly after the reconnaissance mission lands, strange earthquakes begin moving in a path towards Seoul.  The atomic blast has awakened Yongary, a mythological beast that causes the earth to tremble with his burrowing.

The Army of the Republic of Korea heads out to meet Yongary, who has emerged from a rift it  opens in the ground.  The army gets its kimchee handed to it and the kaiju rampage fun begins.

The human characters are par for the course: we have the Dedicated Scientist, the two-fisted Astronaut Hero, their respective attractive love interests, the precocious Young Boy who has an affinity for the monster, and a bevy of impotent public officials.  The whole affair plays out in the expected way with the boy sneaking out to get a better look at the monster and in the process discovering a vital bit of information that gives Dedicated Scientist a way to save the day.  Both Son of Godzilla and Yongary, Monster from the Deep came out the same year. Yongary isn’t unlike Godzilla films of the day, which were made to appeal to a younger audience.

The virtues of Yongary are the virtues of most kaiju movies, tongue-in-cheek monster mayhem coupled with B-movie comic book acting and dialogue.  The failings of Yongary are the failings of late Showa daikaiju: smaller budgets, tired plots and less fun.   Kaiju films, like any genre, have a range of good to bad.  At one end of the range there are Gojira and Daimajin.  At the other end is  . . . I dunno . . . I don’t much like Son of Godzilla.  You’re free to pick your own example of the worst kaiju.  Yongary, Monster from the Deep, on the good to bad scale is closer to Son of Godzilla than it is to Gojira.

Yongary isn’t devoid of fun.  If you’re in the mood for a silly rubber-suited monster movie, you could do worse.   The monster suit, instead of being menacing, like the first Godzilla or  even imposing like Daimajin, looks like something thrown together for an episode of Ultraman.  Yongary eats oil and drinks gasoline, which naturally leads to it being able to belch up fire though a very visible propane torch in its mouth.  In what is perhaps a milestone in WTF moments, Yongary fires a light beam from its horn capable of cutting a jet fighter in half.  Yes, you read that correctly.  And the jet cutting scene is one of my favorites.

There are some more great cheesy moments including: Dedicated Scientist getting hit with a styrofoam block and falling over, the toy tank assault, the toy jet fighter assault, and a scene where a high-ranking police official stops at a check point and asks his men to report.  The lead officer says that everything is normal, even though a nearby mountain is smoking and radiating a strange red light, then erupts into monster mayhem as soon as the final words escape his lips.  Doh!

During one of the scenes where Yongary is rampaging though the city, we see a young mother in traditional clothing and  clutching a child, trip and fall – debris raining down from above.  She screams and covers the child with her own body.  This echoes the grim scene in Gojira where a mother and holds her frightened children as a firestorm rages around them and she cries that they will all be seeing Daddy very soon.  I say that it merely echoes that heart-wrenching scene in Gojira, as this woman is able to get to her feet with her child still in her arms, and run for it.  That’s as close to horror as Yongary gets.  The overall touch here is really light.

I’m not saying that Yongary, Monster from the Deep is a bad movie. Cheesy effects and language dubbing are par for the course. It’s certainly entertaining, particularly for those who love rubber-suited monster movies.

Starring:
Yeong-il Oh
Jeong-im Nam
Sun-jae Lee
Moon Kang

Director:
Ki-duk Kim

Screenplay:
Ki-duk Kim
Yun-sung Seo

Two of five Vincets

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