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Countdown to Halloween Final: Death

31st October 2011

death 2deathToday, we will look at our final creature of the darkness on the Obscure Monster Countdown to Halloween, Death. However, calling Death obscure is not quite fair. Death is a common theme in quite a few Korean films and spans all of the genres. But did you know that Korea has a personification of death?  Just as Europe and North America have the Grim Reaper and Angels of Death, East Asia has Jeoseung Saja.  Dressed in billowing black robes and wearing his telltale tall black cap, the Jeoseung Saja walk the Earth seen only by those who are about to die. Pale skin and sunken eyes which stare unrelentingly at their target, these death-beings visit those at the point of death and call for their souls. For the most part, there is no escape from his firm grasp as he cannot be reasoned with or swayed from his task.. .(except in the comedy short film collection of Dasepo Naughty Girls Series in which the Jeoseung Saja allows the students and teachers of the school to barter for their lives with sexual favors).

If you have watched any television programs in the summer in Korea, you eventually come across a Jeoseung Saja, maybe on a comedy show or a sitcom. He might appear in a music video or in a movie. The first time I saw a Jeoseung Saja was on an episode of Legends of the Hometown and I couldn’t figure out what he was.. I thought he was simply a male ghost. But, he turned out to be much more than that. Jeoseung Sajas were never human, they are pure spirits in the employ of the Great King Yeomna who rules the underworld and judges the spirits of the recently deceased. Yeomna dispatches the Jeoseung where needed and the personifications of death collect the spirit and guide it safely along the Hwangcheon Road– the road to the afterlife– and even assist them in crossing the river, much like the god Charon along the river Styx in Greek/Roman mythology. They are not evil, but they are frightening, especially to those souls who refuse to admit that it is their time to die.

While the Jeoseung Saja have appeared in many films, they have never been the subject of a movie. Maybe it is time someone corrected that… 

Happy Halloween!

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Countdown to Halloween D-2: Werewives

30th October 2011

Yesterday’s post about snakes was really just a transition piece to today’s featured monsters, Snake Woman. These sneaky reptiles will seduce you and trick you into marriage.. and they are not the only animals who take human form to get you to walk them down the wedding aisle. Foxes and snails are also on the prowl for men to marry. Read on to learn the signs if your girlfriend is actually one of these animals in disguise.

madam white snakeThe origins of Snake Wives was in China with the Chinese legend of the White Snake.  The basic story describes a snake who has lived for 1000 years and now has great supernatural powers and wishes to take the next step to become a goddess and use her powers for good. Eventually she meets a man and falls in love with him, but as a great monk intervenes as their union is against the laws of nature and she is ordered back to her true form. In some versions, the snake woman is punished by being trapped at the bottom of a well while in more modern versions look at the romantic side of the story and find sympathy for the couple and allow them to remain together. In some versions she is accompanied by a thousand year old green snake (or sometimes carp) who acts as her maidservant. Shin Sang-ok’s 1960 film, Madam White Snake follows the legend to a T. Lee Yong-min, the same man who directed the Flower of Evil, gave us The Revenge of the Snake Woman in 1970. In this latter tale, Yong-nyeo is murdered by wealthy Shin and is reincarnated as a snake. She skips the entire thousand-year bit and directly gains the power to transform herself into a woman.  She seduces Ji-eun, Shin’s son-in-law, in her quest for revenge, but winds up falling in love with him. Ji-eun however, does not survive the horror of the snake woman and she kills Shin to complete her vengeance. However, with her success she must now pass on to the next world where Ji-eun is waiting to greet her.

Is your lover really a snake? Take the following quiz and find out!

1.  Does your girlfriend aspire to be a goddess?   Yes_____    No ______

2. Have you arrived home on May 5th of the lunar calendar to find a snake in your home and your girlfriend nowhere to be found?    Yes______  No_______

3. Does your girlfriend’s skin turn dry and peals off, especially in summer?  Yes____ No_____

4. Does your girlfriend become sluggish and prefers to sleep in winter?  Yes____ No_____

5. Does one of your girlfriend’s best friend resemble a carp?  Yes_____ No______

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of these questions, beware!  You may be dating a snake woman in disguise.

Far more frequent than snake women are were-foxes or gumiho.  These live throughout East Asia.  In China, they are known as ‘huli jing’ and are thought to be more likely to cause mischief than be actually evil, although they will also seduce humans.  In Japan, they are ‘kitsune’ and they may be either good or evil.  In Korea, they are ‘gumiho’ and  have been entirely evil however recent depictions of them on television have robbed them of their evil natures. Basically, a gumiho is a thousand year old fox. Over time it has grown nine tails and a strong desire to become human and lose its naturally evil character. Modern stories show both sexes of gumihos but in legends, they were sexless–able to transform into either a man or woman, most often choosing the form of a beautifu woman as men were easier to seduce.

foxy ladyOne of the reasons that they want to seduce humans is to eat their livers (or in some texts, the heart of their victim).  They must eat these to survive and, when they cannot seduce a man and devour his organs, they will dig corpses out of grave mounds and eat their livers instead. A gumiho may become human by living with a man for 1000 days as his wife, never eating meat during that time and in some versions, never eating food meant for humans. These gumihos sneak out at night to kill chickens or eat from a bowl on the floor. However, if within that time the spouse discovers the actions of his wife and comes to suspect she is a gumiho, her chance to become human is revoked. She will be pretty upset about this and no matter how much she claimed to love you, she will wind up killing you and eating your liver..or heart.  Gumihos are dangerous no matter what recent television dramas tell you. Take a look at the folliwng checklist to determine if, in fact, you are dating a gumiho.. This applies to both men and women!

1. Does your lover pressure you into living together? Yes ____ No______

2. Does your lover claim to be a vegetarian but drools over lunch when you eat beef or pork?  Yes_____ No_____

3. Are your neighbors’ chickens disappearing?  Yes _____  No______

4. Do domesticated dogs dislike your partner?  Yes______ No______

5. Does your lover go out in the dead of night and come back with dirty clothes, shoes or feet? Yes_____ No______

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, beware– You are dating a gumiho!  Note:  Never give voice to your suspicions!  The gumiho will know and turn on you!

lady snailThe final animal that might seek to become your wife is the snail. This unlikely invertebrate will hide in your house when you are home, but come out when you step out to do the housework and prepare meals for you. Unlike the other two on this list, there is nothing dangerous about this situation except that it also is breaking the laws of nature.  In the original legend, the snail transforms into a woman during the day when the master of house was out but eventually the young man, curious as to who is cleaning and cooking for him, spies on his home after leaving and sees the snail at work. The two fall in love and marry.  However, there are two possible endings to this story. One is ‘they lived happily ever after’ and the other is not so happy. In the other version, the young man’s mother takes offense at having a snail for a daughter-in-law and one day throws the mollusk out of the house on a straw mat and then sets it on fire. Her son, in love with his whelk, throws himself on the fire to be with her.  Only one Korean movie that I know of deals with this topic, Fat Boy Meets Brownie Girl pictured above.

1. Is your wife/girlfriend absolutely devoted to you and subservient to your will? Yes___ No____

2. Does she do all the housework and cooking while you are at work?  Yes_____ No_____

3. Are there occassionally unexplained trails of slime on your floors, wall or bed? Yes___ No____

4. Does your girlfriend/wife have feelers on the top of her head?  Yes___ No____

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions you may be living with a snail woman. Don’t panic, she is not dangerous… Just don’t tell anyone.

Althought the danger level of these creatures ranges from extreme to nil, the were-wives earn themselves a spot on the Obscure Monster Countdown to Halloween for all the cinematic fun they have given over the years.

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Countdown to Halloween D-3: Snakes

29th October 2011

Snakes are a popular choice for movies. In recent years we have had at least four Anaconda movies, Snakes on a Plane, King Cobra and the Python series. Earlier decades gave us movies such as Venom and Mamba.  Way back in 1974, Hollywood treated us to a movie simply called Snakes in which an elderly man sent his pet snakes out to take revenge on his enemies rather like the better known film Willard which featured Rats. Both of these could be seen as part of a sub-genre of the ‘Nature-Gone-Wild’ category of disaster films. In Nature-Gone-Wild movies, a species– or sometimes an entire family comprised of various, related species– of animals would rise up against humanity. Hitchcock presented us with The Birds and the feathered fiends were quickly followed by many other animals from rabbits (Night of the Lepus), frogs (Frogs) and even worms (Squirm)!

calamity of snakesThe nature-gone-wild films and disaster films in general never really caught on in Korea. However, during the late sixties throught the early 80s, Korean filmmakers frequently teamed up with Hong Kong and Taiwanese production companies. Most of the films made through these collaborations were action ‘kung-fu’ flix but there was some variety. Here we will briefly look at two movies featuring reptiles of revenge that were co-produced with Hong Kong. The first is a film known as Calamity of Snakes (1983). This one follows the usual pattern of nature-gone-wild films where a greedy corporate executive does something to destroy the natural habitat of the animal of the day and they rise up to indiscriminately take vengeance. In this case, the snakes seem justified as their brethern have just been horribly slaughtered by a construction crew who are building a new resort hotel. In retaliation, the snakes invade a luxury, high-rise and attack all the residents living there. Mind you, this is not just one species of snake– it is quite an unusual mix. And they are led by a gigantic boa with kung-fu ability.  Yes– you read that last part right. The snake, suspended from the sky, becomes involved in a wire-fu battle with a team of exterminators.  Sounds like it might be fun, right? Well, not really. For many of the scenes, the snakes are real (unlike the one in the photo above) and so are their deaths.

75-031~2The other co-production is The Magic Curse (1975).  A trip to Borneo takes a bizarre turn when the travellers encounter a snake cult who make human sacrifices to their serpent god. Taekwondo instructor Im Moon-yeong escapes the clutches of the bizarre witch doctor Adulla and runs straight into the arms of a mysterious woman who turns out to be a high priestess of the snake god. She falls in lvoe with Moon-yeong and sends him safely on his way, but with a little gift. When kissing him goodbye, she bites him and imparts to him a curse. She warns him that if he meets any other woman, her rival for his love will die a horrible death. Instead of taking her seriously, Moon-yeong makes a stop over to Hong Kong and proceeds to screw — I’m sorry– I meant ‘make love to’ as many woman as he can.  After he leaves, each of these comely lasses are terrorized by snakes until they can bear it no more and suffer from heart failure. I’m sure there is something Freudian going on here…  Anyway, Moon-yeong soon finds that the curse has another aspect.  When he is assaulted by a gang of thieves, he transforms into a scaly man-snake with enormous teeth.  With dead street punks on his hands and a trail of dead women behind him, it is not long before the police track Moon-yeong down. Fortunately for our hero, the police believe his story of the curse and accompany him to Borneo to put an end to it. Meanwhile, in Borneo, the high priestess has fallen victim to a curse herself placed upon her by Adulla.  She is transformed into the green Medusa-like woman in the poster and she too is leaving a trail of havoc in her wake.

We are not quite done with snakes yet. These are not quite supernatural enough. Tomorrow we will look at the Snake Wives

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Countdown to Halloween D-4: Flower of Evil

28th October 2011

Take a look at the following trailers from The Ruins (2008), From Hell It Came (1957) and The Maneater of Hydra (1967)– Three Western films that feature man (and woman) eating plants. If you were to watch these films, you would notice that they have something in common, namely that you have to be pretty slow, pretty stupid or a combination of both to get yourself devoured by a plant. Even the lumbering tree monster which is not rooted to the spot once it matured moves at a glacial pace. Let’s face it, plants are not scary and the fact that they can barely move is the primary reason. Alien plants are a little different and make a better impression on the horror enthuiast. The original version of The Thing, Little Shop of Horrors, The Body Snatchers and The Day of the Triffids all feature alien plants that are far more memorable than any of the posies listed earlier in the paragraph.

flower of evilAt first glance the title flora in The Flower of Evil, directed by Lee Yong-min back in 1961, might be suffering from the same problem. It is confined to a flower pot. Even though descriptions state that it can move at night, I don’t think it would get very far with its roots firmly trapped in soil on a pot on an end table. This is especially problamtic as this sinister flower requires a healthy dose of blood to survive. Its stature may be deceptively small, but the amount of blood required to keep this plant alive is surprising. How can it possibly get what it needs?  The answer is simple and follows in the vein of the original Little Shop of Horrors (1960)– the plant simply tells its owner what it wants.  But there is no thin little whisper of “Feed Me” nor the more musical demands as made in the remake of Little Shop of Horrors. No, this plant has an entirely different method. At night, it transforms into a ghost and makes its needs known.

flower of evil's soul“Now wait just a minute,” you might be thinking, “How can a plant transform into a ghost?” Well, if it were just a plant, I would share your disbelief. After all, a couple of days ago, the One-Eyed Ghost explained that the dying with han in one’s soul was what caused a person to come back as a phantom.  I think most people would agree that a plant does not have a soul and, even if you could convince me that it did, I would never believe that its spirit could carry a grudge that would drive it to revenge. But the ability to transform into a ghost– as well as its lust for human blood — was bestowed on the cursed orchid when the spirit of Baek Ryeong (pictured right) fused with the plant. Baek was a woman deeply in love with Prof. Lee Gwang-soo but he did not return her feelings. She died in an unspecified manner (I suspect suicide) and her spirit joined with a flower creating a new species of plant that Prof. Lee, as a botonist, found irresistable. He now had something unique in the plant world. The fact that it required blood was problematic, but nothing that Lee found too intimidating. He started draining blood from various victims to feed his favorite flower, but he drains too much from one woman and she dies, making him a murderer.

flower of evil posterYou might think that would be as bad as things could get, but it becomes worse. His frequent nightly expeditions to procur more blood have a startling effect on Dr. Lee.  He is slowly transformed into a vampire himself!  He then proceeds to attack his devoted and loving wife. Will his wife survive or will Baek Ryeong have her revenge and spend eternity as a monster with the vampire she loves? I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you that this movie had everything– a blood guzzling vine, a virgin ghost and now a homicidal vampire!  Ah– but ‘had’ is the operative word. This movie is lost. There are no extant copies known. Given the number of stills that exist, I suspect the final copy deteriorated to the point that it was unsalvagable and the remains were photographed as a way to preserve what remained. That is why the image of the actual star of the film, the Flower of Evil, is not clear.  I did not have a lot of options to choose from. But there are not only stills; the scenario and a poster are still around and serve as evidence of this movie’s existence.

Tomorrow— Snakes!


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Countdown to Halloween D-5: Zzu-Zzu

27th October 2011

Today, while I was preparing a post for the next monster on the Obscure Monster Halloween Countdown when a friend looked over my shoulder and said excitedly, “You should write about Baby Dinosaur Zzu-Zzu!”  “You mean Young-gu and Dinosaur Zzu-Zzu?” I asked. That was a movie I had briefly considered and dismissed. “Yeah!” he replied, “I saw it when I was about nine or ten years old. It was a lot of fun. You have to write about it.”  Well, since I have to write about it, I will.

zzuzzuWhat really made me agree to write about the movie was the image pictured right. Warning!  Do NOT look directly at this still photo! The absolute hideousness could possibly cause blindness. You all know what I’m talking about. Not the strange reptile creature holding hands with Young-gu.  It’s that horrible collection of verticle and horizontal stripes. And the shorts with suspenders combo. I don’t think I have ever seen anything so terrible in my life. And it appears throughout the movie.. Young-gu never once changes what he’s wearing except for a brief scene that is even worse when he takes off his shirt. Yes, it is true. After my friend told me I had to write about the movie, I felt I first should actually see it.  I was a little reluctant to do so being familar with early Shim Hyeong-rae films and his character Young-gu. As an adult, his films are hard to watch. He has often been blamed for making childish films and his detractors would have a point except for the fact that they Shim’s films were made for children.  In nearly all of his films, Hyeong-rae portrays himself as an adult-sized child, whether he is in the Uleme series, the Young-gu movies (Young-gu and Ddaengchili, Young-gu and Dracula..), or the direct-to-video Hyeong-rae series (Hyeong-rae and the Hulk, Masked Hyeong-rae and the Goblins…).  By playing the child, no matter how unconvincing he is to the mature eye, he provides children with an identification figure.. a character or friend with whom they can imagine sharing impossible adventures or whom they replace in their imaginations with themselves.

The plot of the movie follows the British movie Gorgo (1961) and the 1967 Japanese film Monster from a Prehistoric Planet starring Gappa (a monster that should be on somebody’s obscure creature list)  In all of these films, somebody finds a giant egg or a baby, unknown beast and decides to take it home and then are shocked with the parent or parents of the hatchling come searching for it. In Young-gu and Dinosaur Zzu-Zzu (1993), (NOT “Princess Zzu-Zzu as the KMDb calls it— somebody there mixed up the words Gongryong with Gongju. They are not interchangable), Young-gu finds a giant egg in a cave.  The egg then chases him (?) and nearly crushes Young-gu before coming to a hault and hatching.

At first terrified by the little dinosaur that bears more than a passing resemblence to the original Yonggary from Yonggary, Monster from the Deep (1967), Young-gu soon finds himself coming to its rescue when a gang of children attack the beast out of fear.  The police get involved as well, so Young-gu hides to monster in his room with his stuffed toys like in E.T. He might have evaded the police but Young-gu and the little dinosaur run afoul of three thieves who having seen the dinosaur, want to capture and sell it to the highest bidder. After several misadventures, the thieves finally succeed and take the little dinosaur and the kidnapped Young-gu to Seoul.

It turns out that they left the village just in time.  The real threat to humanity shows up– Zzu-Zzu’s mother. She appears by breaking through the side of a mountain in a scene that was clearly inspired by Yonggary and that is done at least as well as that more famous monster. Her major fault is that she comes at the 50 minute mark–  That meant 50 minutes with no real monster.. or did it?  Little Zzu-Zzu made it quite clear that she did not eat vegetables or grains.  Clearly, she was carniverous… I kept waiting for her to turn on the thieves and eat them. But she doesn’t get the chance. Her mother finally tracks them down in Seoul, after destroying much of the city, finally attacks the building where Zzu-Zzu is hidden and melts her kidnappers with her flame breath. 

That turn of events seemed surprisingly out of place in a movie clearly aimed at very young children as did the ultimate, and quite bloody fate of Zzu-Zzu’s mother as she bleeds out on the street and dies. The soldiers then turn their guns on Zzu-Zzu and…. 

This film was Shim Hyeong-rae’s first attempt at making a monster movie and he has many others to his name..Tyrano’s Claw, Young-gu and the Space Monster, Dragon Tucca, Yonggary and D-War.  Three of those are possible candidates for this list, but tomorrow I be taking a look at a 1961 movie featuring a vampiric vine.

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Countdown to Halloween d-6: The One-Eyed Ghost

26th October 2011

Not all monsters, ghosts and things that go bump in the night are from horror films. Today’s entry onto the list of Obscure Monsters comes from the children’s fairytale, The Brothers Heungbu and Nolbu directed by Kang Tae-woong in 1967. 

Before introducing our feature guest today, I should probably talk a little about the movie.  The Brothers Heungbu and Nolbu was the first feature length film made in Korea to be performed entirely by claymation and dolls not unlike classic holiday favorites such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Clause is Coming to Town. This Korean movie was also made for a holiday, May 5th.  No, not Cinco de Mayo– Children’s Day!  In the movie, Heunbu’s hoarde of children sing a happy-ish song while animals and birds play together with them–I think this is right before a huge snake appears and attempts to devour the baby birds still in the nest.  The happy-ish song is a nice change for the kids. Most time when they are onscreen, they are sobbing about how hungry they are and how sorry they are for their parents.  While much time is spent on the kids, the story is really about the kind Heungbu who, along with his wife and children, savagely beat the snake to death. During the battle, one of the birds suffers from a broken leg. Heungbu and family take care of it  and are rewarded by the birds with a magic seed. In the film, when the seed grows, it produces three enormous gourds that Heungbu and his wife saw open. In one gourd are jewels, silks and luxurious clothes. In another gourd are piles of gold and coins. The final gourd transforms the family’s hovel into a palace-like home. And then comes the good part…

one eyed ghostHeungbu’s brother is the scene stealing Nolbu and his evil wife.  Whenever these two are on screen, the movie is more interesting. These two are very wealthy and care nothing for Heungbu and his prodigious family. When Heungbu goes to them to beg for food for his starving family, Nolbu’s wife slaps him upside the head with a spoon full of rice and tells him he can keep whatever stuck to his face.  However, seeing that his younger brother is much wealthier than he, Nolbu becomes jealous and learns how his brother came upon such good fortune. Finding a swallow, he first ‘accidently’ breaks the birds leg and then goes about taking care of it to ensure he too will receive a magic seed.  However, his gourds are cursed. From the first gourd emerges a talking tiger that chases the couple through their home and warns them to stop their greedy ways. Not heeding the warning, the couple goes to open the second gourd.  A huge dragon appears in a puff of smoke. Although terrifying it wanders away without harming them. But in the final gourd, our star appears– the One-Eyed Ghost! With her entrance, all hell breaks loose. The cyclopsean spirit of vengence chases Nolbu’s wife around, eventually biting her in the neck with her fangs while Nolbu is chased by the tiger and the dragon returns to crush and burn their home to the ground. The movie has a happy ending with Nolbu and his wife going to live with Heungbu and his family. And here to say a few words about her role in the movie is the One-Eyed Ghost herself!

Won-ai:  Hiya folks!

Me: So what can you tell me about your part in the Brothers Heungbu and Nolbu?

Won-ai: Well, first let me tell you that I hated the ending. It was very different from the original story!

Me: What do you mean? I have seen a lot of children’s books with this story in it. They are all pretty much the same.

Won-ai: Those are the modern versions. They are way too soft on Nolbu. They have thieves or goblins or winds coming out of the gourd to deprive him of his wealth. In the original versions he got a good beating and covered with excrement! Nolbu’s wife isn’t in the original stories either. He was unmarried and carried with him a bag of perversity.

Me: Bag of perversity? Do they have those at E-Mart?

Won-ai: You don’t want one. The bag made him do evil and disgusting things like pee in the well or stuff dung into the mouths of crying babies or use other men’s wives if they owed him money. He was a terrible person and derserved what he got!

Me: You seem to be getting angry just talking about him. We can change the subject…

Won-ai: Sorry. I’ve been holding onto my han for so long that it sometimes gets the better of me.

Me: Your han?

Won-ai:  Sure. How do you think I became a ghost? or anyone else becomes a ghost for that matter?

Me: Umm… you died?

Won-ai:  Yes, I died. But I died with a great han. Han is a Korean concept deeply rooted in traditional thought. There is no single word to describe it in English ‘though it is often translated as ‘grudge’ or ‘resentment’ or ‘regret.’  It is the feeling from putting up with oppression in silence or being helpless to help someone you love. It is having to forgive when you really don’t want to and the sorrow of never being able to express how you really feel.

Me: Really? So anyone can feel han?

Won-ai: Well, nine times out of ten it is applied to women. I read an article in the LA Times this past January where they talked about a man shopowner in LA carrying han, but I found it very odd. Ask any Korean around you and they will tell you that han is generally used to refer to something a woman feels–her supressed emotions that she is not allowed to express. Some researchers also say that it is part of the national psyche because of the long history of invaders in Korea through the centuries. In horror movies, it is almost always the thing that motivates the vengence of a female ghost. Korean horror movies through the years have had titles like Resentment of a Daughter-in-Law, My Sister’s Regret, Wol-nyeo-s Grudge… I could go on and on.

Me: I see. Now I know why you are a ghost. But what about the one eye? Is that natural?

Won-ai: Nah, this is my scary face. In the movie you might notice that I sometimes have two eyes. Ghosts can change. In the movie Public Cemetary of Wol-nyeo the ghost appears as a beautiful mother, a floating light and a toothy demon. I can be quite pretty when I want to be.

Me:  I noticed you are carrying something. A DVD of the Japanese movie Ring? Why do you have that?

Won-ai: I just took this along to show you that my scary, one-eyed look is not unique in film. Not only Ring, but if you look behind me in the picture above, you will see an image from the Japanese movie Ju-on and the Korean film Face on the wall behind me. Modern horror also makes use of the baleful, giant eye.

Me: Yeah, I see it. Come to think of it, you do look a lot like the ghost from Ring…

Won-ai:  What!  I’m from 1967!  Ring was made in 1998!  If anything she looks like me!  But y’know, I can’t claim to be the first long-haired ghost wearing white either. Horror movies from the 60s and possibly earlier are filled with us. Sadako was NOT the first contrary to what many Western articles and bloggers have to say. She was just the next in a long line of ghosts.  She wasn’t even the first one to come popping out of a well!  The ghost in Shin Sang-ok’s Ghost Story of the Joseon Dynasty lived in a well and that was made in 1970. I’ll give Sadako the climbing through the tv bit though…that was pretty good… Then again, I came out of a gourd fresh off the vine. I’d like to see her try that!

Me: Well, that is all the time I have today. I want to thank our guest for the day, One-Eyed Ghost, and congratulate her on being the featured Obscure Monster on our Countdown to Halloween. See you tomorrow!

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Countdown to Halloween d-7: Pterachilraus

25th October 2011

Although today’s entry in the Obscure Monster Countdown to Halloween is from 1984, I have to go back to 1966 to begin.  You see, if you were living in Japan in July 1966, you would have been treated to the very first appearance of Urutora or, as he is known to Western audiences, Ultraman.  Created by Eiji Tsuburaya, the original Ultraman television series ran for 39 episodes. Throughout the following years, Ultraman has returned in various incarnations.  Apparently, these giant warriors fuse their life force with a human who can then turn into the titantic defender when Earth is threatened. Growing up in the USA, we did get the original Ultraman series that was aired on Saturday morning when I was a very young child (when it was known as ‘Cartoon Day’, not Saturday)  However, it came on too early in the morning for me to see.. I would always catch the tail end of the show when he would shoot it with a laser from his arm and the monster he was battling that week would blow up.  I always wanted to see more.  When I was a little older, there was an American cartoon featuring Ultraman–several ultramen I believe– but when I moved to Korea, I saw my first complete series of Ultraman featuring Tiga. I think the most comparable show to Ultraman is the British series Dr. Who.  By this I mean that the main character and cast changes over the years, yet the fans instantly recognize and accept these changes as part of the mythos.

pterachilraus 1Why am I talking about Ultraman? Well, the producers of Ultraman had to come up with monsters each week for the hero to battle. Some were quite good. Others were ..umm.. not so good. And while costumes could be recycled over the years you are still going to have a lot of unused monster suits after a 50-year history. What to do with them?  If you were director Kim Jeong-yong, you would have had the idea to get your hands on some of them and make a monster movie. Then again, it might not have been his idea. The production company Woojin Films might have bought the leftover suits and designated Kim to make the film. And what a film he made! Not just a single giant monster, his movie had six different creatures tearing up cities and villages in Korea.  He used the suits that appeared in the Ultraman series as Fester, Sea Gorass, Sea Monster, Bemster, Pterotils and Baragon. Baragon deserves special mention. He was from Toho Studios, the company that produced Godzilla. He was frequently loaned to Tsuburaya Productions to battle Ultraman. He originally appeared in Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) and is blamed for attacking Paris in Destroy All Monsters (1968) although he does not appear in that movie as his suit was on loan.  I have to assume that Tsuburaya Productions eventually bought Baragon, but he ultimately wound up in Korea and appeared in the 1984 film Flying Dragon Attacks.. (the title I am using is what appears on the VHS box shortly after its theatrical release. The KMDB lists this film as Flying Monster)

Baragon can hardly be considered obscure enough for me. Instead, I want to give the spot in the Halloween Countdown to the title creature, the Flying Monster herself, Pterachilraus! Her fearsome visage with her angry red plumage is pictured above.  Her height seems to vary throughout the movie depending what background she is in. I would estimate her to usually be around Godzilla-sized, 2-300 feet tall. However, when shooting interacting with her co-stars (the lower of the two images pictured above) she is more like 60 feet tall. One professor Kim gets  it into his head that Pterachilraus is a threat to humanity and that the only way to eliminate the threat is by attacking her nest and destroying her eggs. However, I am not sure what he hoped to accomplish by that… drive Pterachilraus to commit suicide as Rodan (a Toho monster whom Pterachilraus somewhat resembled) had done?  It didn’t work. Instead the gigantic flying beast goes on a revenge fueled rampage and destroys the cities closest to her home. She is apparently joined by many of her monster friends.. There is a three-minute video collage of the film here ( See if you can make any sense out of what is happening…  No?  Well, don’t feel bad. You are not alone.

The lovely woman staining the soles of Pterachilraus’ foot in the picture above is reporter Kang Ok-hee who went undercover as a maid in Prof. Kim’s house to get the scoop on the ‘rejuvenation formula’ he has been working on. While I do not know for sure, I am willing to bet that it is more than just a anti-aging skin cream he is working on and that it will somehow regrow her legs. I hope so anyway, for her sake.

I have to admit that as a child I loved ‘giant monster movies’ but as an adult I find them extremely difficult to go back and watch. I would not be able to do it at all except for the invention of the ‘mute’ button.. those monster roars are noisy…and much too frequent!  However, I would happily buy this movie if it were ever released on DVD just for the shear insanity of the film. Pterachilraus is the definition of ‘obscure monster’ and earns a place on the Obscure Monster Halloween Countdown.

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Countdown to Halloween d-8: Possessed Doll

24th October 2011

Many people know of the ghosts, monsters and creatures that have skittered through Korean horror films over the past decade. The ghosts of Phone or A Tale of Two Sisters have left indelible images on the minds of viewers around the world.  Others maybe won’t prove as memorable, like the haunted tree in Acacia, the giant pig from Chaw or the the werewolves of Ssunday Seoul but they are still fairly recent and won’t be dealt with here.

In these posts counting down to Halloween, I will be dealing with the obscure–my favorite topic. Monsters, ghosts, goblins and the like from before the year 2000; creatures from movies never released on DVD that are in danger of being forgotten in Korea and not known at all outside of the country.

possessed dollFirst on the list one of my favorites, the Possessed Doll from the movie Suddenly at Midnight (1981) directed by Ko Yeong-nam– an excellent film that deserves a DVD release.  The doll itself is odd, but at first not particularly scary. In fact, I would not have minded keeping it on my mantle if I were to find one– it certainly would be a conversation piece. It stands about a foot tall, is made of wood and depicts a shaman priestess in the midst of a ceremony with her cleaver held aloft. The lucky owner of the doll is Mi-ok, a simple girl raised by her mother deep in the mountains of Korea. Mi-ok might have remained there all her life and followed in her mother’s footsteps as a shaman, talking to spirits, divining futures and performing exorcisms had it not been for a chance meeting with the dignified professor of butterflies, Dr. Kang Yoo-jin and a fire that claims her mother’s life. Benevolent Dr. Kang takes the suddenly orphaned young woman home to his wife to work as a servant in the house. His wife, Seon-hee, feels a little jealous about Mi-ok’s beauty and is naturally very curious about the doll as well, but Mi-ok is very protective of it and won’t let anyone touch it.

When alone with the doll, Mi-ok talks to it and when the doll is alone it wanders around outside..or at least that is what Seon-hee believes as she catches it glaring in at her from outside the window. Later on, it just seems to keep turning up in the most unexpected places–especially after Mi-ok has a little… accident..really.. Seon-hee is completely innocent.  When we next see the doll, it is life-sized– which not even I would want in my living room.  Seon-hee hates it so much now that she winds up in a life or death struggle with the oversized doll… but it would be telling if I said who won. 

Suddenly at Midnight is a great movie that leaves a lot open to interpretation. Is the doll really possessed by the spirit of Mi-ok’s mother as Mi-ok and Seon-hee believe? Does it really move around?  Or is it the imagination of a jealous, insecure woman who is descending into madness?  Whether it is real or not, Possessed Doll earns a place on the Obscure Monster Halloween Countdown.

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Index of the 1970s: Choi In-hyeon

28th August 2011

Director Choi In-hyeon was born in Jinju, South Gyeongnam Province on October 24, 1928.  He became interested in studying drama while he was in middle school.  When Kim So-dang remade the classic, lost film Arirang in 1957, Choi was given a part. Although it was his only acting part, it got him interested in working in film. In the 60s, he joined Shin Sang-ok’s production company, Shin Films and began making movies.  He made more than 60 films over the years, 29 of them in the 1970s.  By 1979, his career was just about finished.  He made just three more films in the years between 1980 and his death in 1990. The films shown below completes his 1970s filmography. To see the rest of his films– and those of other directors– just click the tab at the top of this page marked ‘The 1970s.’   Click the thumbnails and then enlarge to see a fully legible image.

choiinhyeon 1974 secrethistoryofthelowerclass, choiinhyeon 1975 duelatsorimtemple, choiinhyeon 1975 younglady, choiinhyeon 1976 concentrationofattention, choiinhyeon 1976 honggildong, choiinhyeon 1977 songdedicatedtomywife, choiinhyeon 1978  kingsejong, choiinhyeon 1978 goddessofmercy, choiinhyeon 1978 womaninthefog, choiinhyeon 1979 eternalinheritance

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Two of a kind

27th July 2011

spot the differences1

Can you spot the differences between the image on the left and the one on the right? A friend of mine couldn’t earlier this afternoon. He had come into my office, glanced at the promo material for Leafie: A Hen Into the Wild on my desk and asked, “Didn’t you already see Sympathy for Lady Vengeance?“  The colors and images on the poster of the latter film are so instantly recognizable that he had not even noticed that Lee Yeong-ae had been replaced by a chicken.  (Don’t be embarassed Jae-hong…no one reading this knows you ㅋㅋㅋ) .  The Leafie poster above is an alternate, not the main poster, and will probably not be seen very often. 

spot the differences2

Homages–or spoofs if done for comedic effect – are rare.  Oh–there are lots of Korean movies that contain scenes that are meant to spoof earlier movies. That was the whole concept behind 2002’s Fun Movie by director Jang Gyu-seong.  Dachimawa Lee 2007 payed homage to an entire decade of action films– but not one movie in particular. Scenes from Shiri, Nowhere to Hide, Oldboy and Whispering Corridors are reshot in comedies (as well as tv, music videos and commercials) but rarely do we see them depicted on posters of other films. One alternate poster of The Weird Missing Case of Mr. J (2009) references Oldboy, but shows no specific scene from that film.  The Mafia, the Salesman above spoofed 300 when it was released, but searching through alternate posters of films throughout the past decade did not reveal many others.

two of kind 3

Earlier decades had a few homages.  The above film is the animated David and Goliath (1978) whose poster was clearly inspired by Ben Hur. While not a particularly good movie, the poster art does a wonderful job in lovingly representing  and respecting the original work.

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