Pulgasari (1985)

Pulgasari (1985) movie poster

directors Shin Sang-ok, Chong Gon Jo
viewed: 09/08/2017

Pulgasari, the only North Korean film probably most people have seen, is a fascinating artifact. The whole story of the production (via abduction/kidnapping of the director) is a worthy story itself. That it was produced by Kim Jong-Il while not yet the leader of North Korea, a passion project due to his love of Godzilla movies.

And yet, it’s propaganda. Though maybe not successful propaganda.

Pulgasari the monster is a take on the legendary creature “Bulgasari” who gobbles up iron (and the likeness maybe ends there). Here the creature is created or summoned when a poor village is robbed of all of their resources by the brutal government, taking all of their metal including cooking utensils and farm equipment. The blacksmith forms a figurine out of rice which comes to life when blood is spilled on it. Pulgasari is born and runs around cute as the dickens until he eats up all metal in sight and grows and grows.

No matter the many plans of the evil governor or his hired armies, Pulgasari manages to break free and wreak the vengeance for which he was created. The starving people and oppressive government maybe are meant to represent something other than the standing North Korean government and its people but it’s hard not to make the comparison. Pulgasari fights for the people.

But interestingly, in the end, Pulgasari himself becomes a liability. He still eats and eats and eats up all of the metallic resources, dooming to grateful people to further privations and starvation. He has to be convinced to disincorporate.

The messages do push self-sacrifice, but I’m not sure how much it pushes an appreciation of the state. Everyone has to be willing to give all of oneself to bring about change.

Pulgasari himself is pretty cool. Designed by the Japanese crew that made that era of Godzilla movies, he’s a nifty guy, who changes in looks as he changes in size. His changes in size don’t always hew consistently in proportion.

Quite an interesting entity.

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