Pulgasari, Kim Jong-Il’s monster movie

When he wasn’t busy scoring 3-4 holes in one every time he played golf or coaching North Korea’s soccer team via invisible cell phone, Kim Jong-Il was an avid movie fan, whose favorite films were said to be Rambo and Godzilla. He even wrote a book about filmmaking, On the Art of the Cinema, which contained such passages as:

“Actors must be ideologically prepared before acquiring high-level skills,” he writes, recommending a kind of communist method acting. “No revolutionary actor has ever actually been a Japanese policeman or capitalist . . . To effectively embody the hateful enemy, the actor requires an ardent love of his class and a burning hostility towards the enemy.”

Additionally, you may be required to wash Michael Bay’s Ferrari. In 1978, Jong-Il kidnapped South Korean director Shin Sang-ok, imprisoned him for four years feeding him grass and rice, then abruptly let him out and gave him millions to make propaganda movies. One such movie was Pulgasari, a Godzilla-like monster of capitalism who, like all capitalists, had an insatiable hunger for iron. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Guardian has a more than adequate rundown, and SPOILER ALERT, it includes something called “a lion gun.” God, propaganda is the best.

Pulgasari is a monster of the people. When the wicked king oppresses the people, a jailed blacksmith moulds a tiny character out of rice, declaring he will use the last spark of his creative power to bring the doll to life.

As the farmers are starving under the king’s rule, the doll, Pulgasari, eats iron and grows. The cherubic toddler Pulgasari soon becomes a horned beast whose clawed foot is the size of a person. And since this is a movie made under the guidelines of On the Art of the Cinema, there are seemingly endless shots of the people’s folk dances.

Finally, Pulgasari leads the farmers’ army in an assault on the king’s fortress – and against thousands of North Korean military troops who were mobilised and dressed up as extras. Ultimately, the king uses his experimental anti-Pulgasari weapon, the lion gun. But the enterprising Pulgasari swallows the missile and shoots it back at his oppressors. Finally, the king is crushed beneath a huge falling column.

THE LION GUN. God, I hope that’s actually a gun that shoots lions. Anything less would be a great disappointment. These damned communists and their persistent metaphors.

Then the movie becomes curiously ambiguous. The beloved Pulgasari turns on his own people. Still hungry for iron after his victory, Pulgasari begins eating the people’s tools. The confusing conclusion seems to find salvation in the spirit of the people.

When the blacksmith’s daughter tearfully pleads with Pulgasari to “go on a diet”, he seems to find his conscience, and puzzlingly shatters into a million slow-motion rocks. Then, inexplicably, a glowing blue Pulgasari child is born, waddling out of the ocean. It’s a terrifically bad movie.

Oh hell yeah, the The Fury ending. The The Fury ending is the best of all endings. Not enough people spontaneously explode in gratuitously-shot slow motion these days. I’m always saying that.

On one hand, Pulgasari is a cautionary tale about what happens when the people leave their fate in the hands of the monster, a capitalist by dint of his insatiable consumption of iron. But it is also tempting to read the monster as a metaphor for Kim Il-sung, hijacking the “people’s revolution” to ultimately serve his purposes.

When the movie was delivered to Kim, he saw it as a great victory. Trucks pulled up to Shin Films to unload pheasants, deer and wild geese for the movie crew to feast on. [Guardian]

Well sure, every good lion gun deserves a pheasant truck.