Seen in Jeonju

The Goblin’s Club (1986)

26th November 2012

The Goblin’s Club– directed by Park Seung-cheol, Voiced by Ki Eung-do.  Running Time:  60 minutes.  Date of Release: July 20, 1986.

p1In the dead of night, sinister ghost-like figures dance in the darkness on the outskirts of a sleepy village. One by one, the residents of the town extinguish their lights to retire for the night and, as the last light goes out, the waiting spirits make their move. Flowing like water, merging together and dividing again, the spectoral visitors attack each house, frightening the peasants from their slumber. In some cases, the spirits take on a solid form revealing themselves to be purple-skinned monstrosities with horns like a devil and armed to the teeth. In the morning, the villagers find some of the men of the village have gone missing, taken away to wherever these mysterious beings dwell. Night after night this scene plays outself out, leaving the remaining villagers helpless and terrified for their lives.

Cha-dol knows nothing of this. He is far more at home in the woods than in any village. He and his best friend, a talking bear, live free to spar when they want and go where they please. They know nothing of the terrors faced each night by the villagers until a chance encounter with Ibbeun. After rescuing her from some roving bandits, Cha-dol and Bear learn that her father was among the men who disappeared in the middle of the night. Also hearing that the stories of the nocturnal visitations are being attributed to goblins is the Goblin King. He is furious knowing that his subjects would never violate the peace that exists between humankind and his underground race. He sends a party out with a magic, golden club to seek revenge on those perpetrating the reign of terror. Leading the small band of goblins is the Goblin Prince, little more than a boy himself. His inexperience proves to be his undoing as he gets into a fight with Bear. The massive and clumsy animal crushes the Prince who loses the club. While the other goblins are dealing with bear who escapes back to Cha-dol, a watching peasant makes off with the prince’s club.

The peasant makes his way home and is attacked by the purple-skinned goblins upon his arrival. Even without knowing how to control the goblin’s weapon, it is powerful enough to send them running. In their efforts to escape, one of the attackers drops something which had come loose in the fight. It turns out to be a mask and their is a human face underneath. The peasant is not clever enough to make the connection, but Cha-dol and his band have been joined by an emissary from the King and the goblin prince. They confront the peasant and he returns the goblin’s property and explains what happens. As he does this, the entire party is attacked once again. The phoney goblins have returned, this time with a powerful witch who is able to transform them into the spirits we saw at the beginning of the film as well as hurl powerful blasts from her hands.  In the ensuing chaos, she steals the magic club, but not before the prince is able to deactivate it so it cannot be used.  She returns it to her master who is kidnapping the villagers to work in an enormous underground cavern containing veins of gold.  The small band of heroes make their way to the hideout and prepare for a life-and-death showdown between the fake goblins, their master, the witch and her equally powerful brother. 

Korean goblins are an interesting lot that have not received very good treatment on the big or small screen. Few movies deal with them and those that do are often very childish. They are often seen in tv shows designed for very young children, often taking the roles of genies and granting wishes for kids while teaching reading or counting. I would like to see a more serious movie about them, especially if it were in the vein of the horror genre. They certainly could fit the bill of a horror movie monster based on appearence with the horns, warts and animal skin clothes. They often carried a large, spiked club which was the source of their power and I believe had the ability to transform themselves into brooms so they would not be detected by humans. While not technically evil, they would take revenge for perceived wrongs and would enact punishment on the wicked. I could definitely see them being used in a horror film set in modern times. Someone needs to get to work on a screenplay right away.

I first learned about Korean goblins through a folk tale. In it, an old man with a hideous goiter was walking through the woods singing when he encountered a goblin. The goblin demanded that the old man give him the secret of such an excellent singing voice. Knowing that goblins are powerful, but not very bright, the old man quickly claimed that the goiter was the source of his vocal prowess.  In an instant, the goblin removed the goiter from the old man and magically attached it to his own neck. The creature then ran away, cackling madly as it thought he had tricked the old man into giving up his prized possession. The old man returned home where his neighbor saw he had been cured. The neighbor also possessed a goiter of large size and wanted to know what had happened. After hearing the story, the second old man ran off into the woods and found the goblins lair. He hid there until the goblins had gathered and then made himself known. He claimed he had another goiter for them that would make them sing beautifully but before any of the goblins could move, the first goblin cried out that they were being deceived as his goiter ‘no longer worked.’ The irrate goblin pulled it from his neck and attached it to the old man. The man was forced to return home, with two goiters instead of one. 

goblins clubThe goblins in The Goblin’s Club are not frightening. The atmospheric beginning is quickly made less frightening when the glowing spirit forms begin dancing and marching like something out of a Betty Boop cartoon. Despite some violence, the movie quickly establishes itself to be for younger viewers. Most Korean animation up to this point in time were made with the target audience of children in mind, so it is not surprising, but the watchability depends on a high degree of tolerance for repetitive scenes and actions and the ability to turn a blind eye to obvious plot holes. By repetitive actions, I do not mean that animation is reused for different scenes– most animations were guilty of that– I am talking about the actions as when Cha-dol gets his hands on a cap of invisiblity made from tiger whiskers and proceeds to stab people in the but with an icepick.  The first time it happens, it is fine albeit a dangerous idea to put in the heads of kids.  However, by the fifth or sixth time it happens.. or the tenth and eleventh.. I was pretty annoyed and wished he would do something a little more creative while invisible.

I was actually surprised to see Cha-dol and Ibbeun.  The two seem to be the same characters as had appeared in Hopi and Chadol Bawi (1967), one of the two sequels to Korea’s first animation Hong Gil-dong.  At least, the names, ages, personalities and time period are the same. However, no other connection to Hong Gil-dong is present in terms of credit to past creators so it could be coincidental. More likely, the writers and artists of Goblin’s Club were using the names with knowledge of the implied connection. Cha-dol and Ibbeun were popular characters in comics and in early animation and both Hong Gil-dong and Hopi and Chadol Bawi film received re-releases during winter and summer vacations throughout the 70s, so audiences would still have been familiar with the characters despite two decades having passed since the height of their popularity.

The Goblin’s Club is available on unsubtitled DVD.  If one is interested in the history of Korean animation, then I recommend it as an alternative to the plethora of giant robots and sci-fi based stories that had taken over the animated scene since the late ’60s.

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