Pulgasari – The true story of kidnap, North Korea, and one awful movie

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Ok hands up who can name a North Korean film. Thought so. Well you’re about to learn about a movie that has a ‘making of’ story even more strange than the plot of the film. North Korea has been in the news a lot lately with their chunky little leader Kim Jong-un acting the hard man and threatening the world.  Craziness runs in the family with his dad Kim Jong-il being a great example of of small man syndrome.

So what has all that got to do with the world of film?  What would you do if you were a angry little megalomaniac movie fan with control of a million man army?  That’s right, you kidnap your favourite director and actress and force them to make a movie for you.  This is exactly what Kim Jong-il did in 1978.  South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and actress Choi Hyun-hee were abducted in Hong Kong and Shin was forced to produce 7 films for the little tool.  And the best of this collection?  Pulgasari!

Imagine Godzilla but with a giant metal eating monster created when the blood of a blacksmith’s daughter spills on a doll made of rice. You couldn’t make this shit up. Unless you’re North Korean in which case you could and did make this shit up. Apart from looking like the product of a painful dump for King Kong, Pulgasari is a champion of the people and rises up against an evil king. He’s basically Che Guevara crossed with a giant radioactive lizard and to be honest that sounds amazing. Why don’t other countries do their own versions? I want to see a huge Irish beast created from genetically engineered potatoes.

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Pulgasari was released in 1985 and sadly, and unfairly in my opinion, was snubbed by the Oscars. This may have been because the special effects were crap and the movie was only released in North Korea and Japan. Oh and the director was abducted and forced to make it. Watch the trailer and try to remember that it was made in the 80s but looks like something from 30 years earlier.

There is a happy ending to the whole sordid affair though. In 1986 while at a film festival in Vienna Shin and Choi, presumably embarrassed about showing the movie in public, did a runner and finally escaped after 8 years in captivity leaving only this awful classic as a souvenir of their time in North Korea. Shin went on to direct 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up instantly losing any sympathy the world had for him. Would it have been too difficult to kidnap Steven Spielberg?

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Actually, Mr Kim, you can have him back

So there you have it. Pulgasari. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube if you either a) love really bad films or b) because, actually I’ve run out of ideas. If there are any North Korea readers of this blog, could you let us all know what the hell is going on in the trailer. Long live Pulgasari!

18 comments

  1. […] So who are the bad guys this time? Islamic extremists are soooo last year, and Russian separatists aren’t very exciting. Yes you guessed it – North-Koreans. These guys are the only baddies that are a safe option these days, plus chances are this won’t be showing in cinemas in Pyongyang (they’re more likely watching this classic). […]

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  2. Reblogged this on Screenkicker! and commented:

    It’s *sniff* nearly the end of the first ever Screenkicker Olympics but there’s one country that’s notable by its absence. Yes that country is North Korea so in the interests of building bridges here’s an classic post from the Screenkicker archives. Hope you enjoy it!

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  3. Utterly absurd, yet equally brilliant. My intrigue is telling my to see this, but I’m guessing I probably shouldn’t. The kidnap story (or reality, even) sounds like a movie itself! Very entertaining review Mikey.

    Adam.

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  4. I really hope you made up that entire story, that it’s some belated April Fool’s joke. Because if it isn’t one, the world seems a slightly darker place than it did before.

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  5. […] Ah, Pulgasari. Probably the most famous North Korean movie ever. Not because its a masterpiece. In fact its a cheap Godzilla knock-off about a heroic socialist monster fighting an evil king. No, Pulgasari is famous because the director and star were both kidnapped by Kim Jong Il and forced to make the movie. If you’d like to read the whole unbelievable making of story I’ve written about it here. […]

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