Sunday, October 30, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 25: Yongary, Monster From The Deep (1967)


When I was first getting into monster movies as a kid, my mother lamented that it was a shame I hadn't lived during the 1960s because I would have had so many more monster movies to choose from than I did in the 1990s. In a way, she was right.

Sure, monster movies suitable for a kid under the age of 10 were still made from time to time, and the older ones were often available in various video stores. However, there was nothing quite on the level of the strangest monsters getting American theatrical releases or regular television airings, that today would be lucky to appear on streaming or torrent sites outside of their country of origin.

Yongary, Monster of the Deep was naturally one of these strange monster movies. In the US it was released straight to television, but again that was still a significant deal at the time. Even more significantly, as I mentioned in my review of its lamentable remake last year, the English version of this film is the only version that still remains intact.

It's hard to say if anything has really been lost in translation, as the film was brought to TV by AIP and they tended to use dubs that were fairly faithful to the original scripts. Some scenes may have been trimmed for time and I highly suspect one plot element was changed to avoid mentioning North Korea, but the version we're stuck with is probably not that far off from the filmmakers' original intent.

Whether that's a good thing is a matter of taste.

We open with a shot of models of the moon and Earth in space, which might seem like kind of an odd way to start a movie about a giant dinosaur stomping Seoul, but that's because space is going to be surprisingly relevant for a movie that has nothing to do with aliens.

Our actual story begins at the end of a wedding, where Ona (Moon Kang*), the daughter of Korea’s foremost rocket scientist, has just wed Sung (Sun-Jae Lee), Korea’s top space pilot and the son of the prime minister. The parents of both are there and are seeing the newlyweds off in their "Just Married" chauffeured car, along with Ona's sister Suna (Jeong-Im Nam) and her boyfriend, Ilo (Yeong-Il Oh). Ilo is a scientist and inventor, and when he realizes a certain family member is missing from the party, he begins to suspect one of his inventions may be, too.

[* The IMDb is very spotty on this film, so I'm going off of El Santo's much more likely to be correct guesses at the cast's identity rather than attempting my own]

Ilo is right on the money, for he follows the wedding car in his own and is thus on the scene when a strange light causes the bride and groom to almost leap out of the car, scratching furiously at their own skin. Ilo assures them it's nothing to worry about, after initially wondering what the hell they were doing, but reveals he knows that the culprit is hiding in the bushes and calls him out. You may already have guessed the missing family member was the youngest brother of...well, I don't actually know which family, to be honest, but I think he's Ona's sibling and his name is Icho (Kwang Ho Lee). Despite being Korean instead of Japanese, Icho is definitely a Kenny and he is currently bedecked in his formal tiny shorts.

"Well, there's no risk of cancer from this device, but you might grow a third testicle."
Icho had swiped an experimental itching ray from Ilo's lab (what purpose does that invention even serve?!) because he thought it would be funny to use it on the couple. Ilo chastises Icho because the ray could have caused them to scratch themselves to death, but he also enables the little monster by admitting it was kind of funny.

Unfortunately for the young couple, that's the only itch they're going to get to scratch. Because just when they've gotten settled into their hotel room and have taken off their clothes of their own accord, a call comes in for Sung. It seems the Korean space program has been tasked with monitoring  a nuclear test in the Middle East and Sung is the only man for the job, despite the fact he's on his damn honeymoon and he'll be in space for a few days.

As a side note, I sort of suspect that "the Middle East" may actually have been North Korea (or maybe China) in the original version. However, the dub seems to imply that Korea is a unified nation and the model rockets are labeled "ROK" as in "Republic of Korea", so it's possible the film always implied Korea was just one nation. However, I have no idea if this is meant to be taking place in a future where unification has happened or not. According to the commentary track on the film's Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, though, the whole plot point of Korea having a space agency was to make South Korea seem more advanced and to instill a certain national pride in Korean viewers.

At any rate, Sung is shot up into space and he observes the nuclear test detonation. This is actually shown to us via a pretty neat miniature effect to create a mushroom cloud, but it is somewhat undercut by the reflection of the cloud on the glass that's used to force the smoke into a mushroom shape. I don't know what the purpose of sending Sung up in the capsule to observe that was, however, or why it had to be the Korean space agency that did it. The important thing, though, is that the Korean government notes with some alarm that the detonation has triggered an earthquake with a moving epicenter that's headed for Korea.

After some attempts at suspense by implying Sung's rocket may have trouble, the young man successfully returns to Earth, landing his capsule in a field. And that's basically the end of his contributions to the plot for the time being. The Korean government is understandably alarmed by the moving earthquake, and the prime minister muses that it reminds him of an old legend about a monster called "Yonggary." (Yes, the English title of this film has only one G, but like how King Ghidorah was introduced to Western audiences as "Ghidrah", this title predates the correct Romanization that has two)

Well, he's not far off, naturally, and he'll soon find that out when a platoon of soldiers and a photographer find themselves in the path of the earthquake and it opens a large crack in the ground. The photographer observes a large, scaly back with either a single row of plates or a sail fin running down its back moving in the crevice. He snaps several photos before hopping into a fleeing jeep, but unfortunately the jeep rounds a corner too fast and goes over a cliff. This manages to be hilarious for two reasons: one, the jeep explodes into flames at the top of the cliff and two, this is all rendered via the saddest miniatures you are likely to see outside of an intentionally bad sequence.

However, the photographer somehow survived that explosion--or, at least, long enough for soldiers to help him into the war room to deliver his camera to the bigwigs before collapsing. Once developed, his photos reveal clear images of what is definitely a living, reptilian creature. So, Yonggary it is.

Kaiju hate paparazzi.
The government orders the evacuation of Seoul ahead of the monster's advance and the military mobilizes a tank platoon to meet Yonggary. Most citizens obey the edict to evacuate, but I'm sort of on the side of the drunk businessmen who refuse to abandon their Korean barbecue because of a giant lizard.

Well, Yonggary bursts out of the side of a mountain and confronts the tank squadron. And, well, let's talk about Yonggary. If I'm being charitable, I will say the general design is clearly inspired by a Ceratosaurus, but with prominent tusks, small Stegosaur-like plates down its back, and a thagomizer on its tail. If I'm being uncharitable, I will say it is inspired by sticking Gamera's head on Godzilla's body and giving it a nose horn. It's not a horribly original design, but it appeals to me.

What does not appeal to me is Yonggary's roar. It sounds weirdly like a donkey braying, except for when it sometimes uses Barugon's roar.

As a suit, well, Yonggary is a mixed back. The scales and detailing on the suit are excellent, but the suit follows the same pattern of the original Gamera suits by having the whites of the eyes be lit internally, despite no animal ever working that way. As usual this means his eyes scream their artificiality from the hilltops. The other defect of the suit won't appear until later, but Yonggary is a fire breather and this is realized--like the original Gamera--via putting a flame thrower in the suit. However, the nozzle in the mouth is gigantic and obvious.

"Boy I just love Seoul food! Thank you, I'll be here all week!"
At any rate, tanks rounds are exactly as useless as you'd expect. Yonggary stomps on several tanks before demonstrating his flame breath on them and then waltzing into the city. The remaining populace flees in terror at Yonggary's approach, with the exception of Ilo, Suna, and Icho. Ilo decides he wants to get a closer look at the beast, Suna follows because she doesn't want her boyfriend to get himself trampled, and then her poor distraught mother is unable to stop Icho from running after them.

Well, they get a good look at Yonggary, all right, and Ilo manages to get himself injured by some rubble when the kaiju smashes a nearby building. Icho then runs off on his own and, for some reason, decides to travel via the sewers to get right up close to Yonggary--and nearly gets his head squashed when he peeks out of a manhole right before Yonggary stomps on it.

After a military helicopter annoys Yonggary by buzzing around his head, they barely avoid his annoyed flame breath that he unleashes to vice his displeasure. Amazingly, they do not then manage to find a way to fly into his range of fire, so they get to survive the film.

"What nozzle? I have perfectly round, metal throat, okay?!"
Icho follows Yonggary as the creature wanders out of the city to the surrounding hills where the creature finds several huge oil tanks. To Icho's bewilderment, the creature dunks its head into one and begins drinking the oil. Icho somehow turns off the flow to the oil tank or something and Yonggary responds by throwing the empty container down the hill, which causes other tanks to explode into flames--which Yonggary then "eats" via the old Gamera method of reversing the footage of his flame breath.

"Just like mama used to make!"
Ilo and Suna try to get to the refinery where they believe Icho has gone, but are stopped by a soldier. In one of the strangest dubbing flubs I've ever seen, the soldier tells them they can't go to the refinery because the military will be attacking Yonggary with guided missiles. There is a pause and then the dub actor repeats the exact same line or else his line was looped over footage of whatever the actual actor said next.

Well, the military is actually not using their guided missiles just yet, because Yonggary is still too close to the city. So Icho is able to observe the monster smashing into a container and reacting with obvious irritation when the chemical inside touches his skin. When Icho brings this information back to Ilo and says Yonggary was irritated by something that smells bad, the young scientist realizes it must have been a precipitate of ammonia and goes to work trying to figure out what the right recipe for Kaiju-B-Gone is.

Icho's intelligence is also brought to the military, so they are aware the creature eats oil and flame. So they set fire to an oil tank in a wide open area and when Yonggary takes the bait, then they hit him with the guided missiles. After that proves woefully ineffective, Ilo also has an ammonia compound loaded into a helicopter and flies over Yonggary to dowse the creature in it. Well, it must not have been strong enough because all it does for the time being is put Yonggary into a state of hibernation.

While Ilo tries to work out a more effective formula, the protagonists forget they have a Kenny in their midst and Icho sneaks off with the itching ray to see Yonggary up close. Turning the ray on Yonggary makes his horn glow and then causes the creature to wake up and...well...

I am a seasoned kaiju fan, so I have seen every Godzilla and Gamera movie made prior to this year multiple times. I have seen Godzilla fly, I have watched Gappa, I have pondered The X From Outer Space, and what follows Icho's prank still boggles my mind every time. For Yonggary begins scratching at himself in what approximates a dance, and Icho gleefully decides the creature is dancing--and suddenly surf rock music pops up so that Yonggary does appear to be dancing.

WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW
Soldiers come up and take Icho into custody for his own safety which brings the madness to a close. However, now Yonggary returns to Seoul to rampage through it and reveals he now has a laser beam that fires from his horn and slices through vehicles like Gyaos's sonic beam. He demonstrates this on a military jeep, somehow without killing the soldiers riding in it. Said horn laser, naturally, has a much longer range than his flame breath could ever dream of. So not only did Icho revive the deadly monster to let it kill more people, but he somehow upgraded its weapon capabilities.

Thanks a lot, Kenny.

A squadron of fighter planes attacks Yonggary when the creature's rampage takes it to the side of river and a bridge. Yonggary smashes the bridge and then uses his nose horn to slice apart the planes. Meanwhile, Ilo finally hits on the proper ammonia mixture and the entire family--including Icho--climbs into a helicopter to go kill the monster.

And then the film proceeds to break the viewer's mind for a second time, because Yonggary goes out in the most inexplicably brutal way imaginable. For the result of being hit with the ammonia is that he thrashes around in agony on the river bank, smashes another bridge, and finally falls, twitching, with his feet and tail in the river and...

There's no other way to describe this: Yonggary dies from a severe rectal hemorrhage. (Well, okay, since he's a dinosaur it's more of a cloacal hemorrhage) You read that right, Yonggary dies by bleeding out of his ass.

Normally I don't post animated gifs as screenshots because I feel static screenshots are less obtrusive and I'm also not keen on setting off any seizure disorders with my silly reviews. However, you really need to see this in motion to truly appreciate how wrong it is.

Fun for the whole family!
I honestly don't know what the filmmakers were going for, but there is no question that the only place that blood in the water could be coming from is where the sun don't shine. Icho is momentarily sad that Yonggary has to die and tries to stop his family from pouring more ammonia on the dying beast, but they quickly assure him it is necessary that the poor monster die a bloody death for the good of humanity. Icho happily accepts that truth. The End.

In Memoriam
Hoo boy. Yongary, Monster From The Deep is the sort of movie I feel like every member of any genre fandom eventually encounters: the movie you hear awful, awful things about but you know some day you are going to watch it.

Or, in my case, watch it again. Then buy it on DVD and watch it again. Then sell the DVD and buy it on Blu-ray and watch it again, and again, and...

Make no mistake, based on my synopsis, you should already be aware that I do not think this film is good. It is terrible. Have I seen worse kaiju films? Absolutely. For instance, the remake of this film. However, this is a gloriously terrible film.

The monster suit and miniature effects are actually pretty solid, if clearly inferior to anything in contemporary Godzilla films. Apparently that's because at least some of the effects were done by the effects crew who worked on the Gamera series. However, the miniatures also have some hilarious failures, like the rolling oil tanks that are accompanied by sound effects that make them seem even more like just hollow metal cans. And the attempts to dump fake rubble on the actors is just adorable.

The optical effects work is even worse, from making super-imposed fleeing civillians appear to be two stories tall, to a shot of a jeep swerving around Yonggary's legs that not only makes Yonggary less than half his supposed size, but renders his body neon green.

The film's story is a mess, too, of course. Yonggary seems to be meant as a dangerous, even scary monster like Godzilla in his villainous roles, though not without some sympathy. However, midway through the film suddenly switches gears to stealing the tone of the Gamera films by showing a child becoming attached to the monster and even sympathizing with it--only for his heroic family to brutally kill it.

Now, it's true that unlike Gamera, this film never hints at the idea that Yonggary returns any form of affection that Icho has for him. So it's not like Yonggary is the friend to all children but then the government kills him anyway. But that just makes Icho look like a little asshole who is responsible for helping the monster to kill even more people.

I admit, I get a perverse enjoyment from Yongary, Monster From The Deep that I think even most lovers of crap cinema do not. For one thing, I just plain like Yonggary, aside from his roar. His design is completely unexceptional, to the point that if you're making a "generic" kaiju for something so Toho won't sue you, it's generally gonna look like Yonggary. Just ask Marvel Comics--when they wanted to use Godzilla after their license expired they mutated him to look a lot like Yonggary:


However, sometimes the familiar is welcome and that is definitely true when it comes to kaiju. I have  a weak spot for the "big dinosaur that breathes fire" archetype, and because of that I still wring a lot of joy out of Yonggary. He also looks kind of like a Ceratosaurus, and that's one of my top five favorite dinosaurs. So I'm biased in that regard.

I can't recommend the film at all, though, unless you're in a mood to mercilessly riff a bad movie. Sure, I find it inexplicably pleasing, but the average viewer--even a kaiju fan--may find it intolerable or even dull.

Well, for most of the movie anyway. Nobody can be bored by the twin horrors of inexplicable dancing kaiju and death by kaiju anal fissure.


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