Seen in Jeonju

Maruchi, Arachi (1977)

10th October 2009

maruchi arachiOriginally posted February 20, 2008– In the late 1970s and throughout the 80s, Korean animation was dominated by giant robots.  More often than not, they were often imitations of Japanese-made cartoons or pale imitations of the earlier Robot Taekwon V.  However, that does not mean that cartoonists were not offering quality films–they were. And Maruchi, Arachi was one of the highlights.

Maruchi, Arachi was directed by Im Jeong-gyu who, unfortunately, made surprisingly few films.  The story seemed like a cross between the Hong Kong kungfu revenge films popularized by the Shaw Brothers in the seventies and a James Bond adventure. It was also featured an interesting blend of impossibly high-tech machines and mystical fantasy. On the downside, it also has quite a few childish features but these would have proven necessary for younger viewers–especially the inclusion of Doli and Jumbaki (more on them later)–for despite the action, the plot is rather heavy and serious for young viewers.

The story begins with Miss Jang and Mr. Yang hiking through the mountains where Disneyesque birds and animals frolic. They discover a cave that is obviously inhabited and, being hungry after their long walk, immediately begin eating the food they find there. The young owners of the cave are surprised to have guests but are far more gracious than I would have been in the circumstances as they offer yet more food and shelter to the pair.  The cave-dwellers are none other than Maruchi and Arachi a boy and girl respectively who appear to be about 16 years old (Arachi may be a little younger). They explain that they were raised in this cave by an elderly man who was an expert of the martial arts. However, he was slain by a large, flying skull surrounded by blue flames that shot lightning from its eyes. The children have been on their own since. Jang immediately suggests that the children accompany them back to civilization. Jang is a teacher and Yang is a taekwondo instructor.  With them the children can study and hone their skills.

And hone their skills they do. The pair quickly proove that they are superior fighters to anyone training at the taekwondo gym so Yang gives them their own personal training routine. Later, Maruchi is entered into an international taekwondo match and seems to be sure to win when suddenly the competition is interrupted by a hideous green combatant. He quickly takes out Maruchi’s opponent and almost kills the boy before escaping.

The puppy belonging to Jang’s younger brother chases after the attacker and trails him to his hideout. He watches as the man uses a de-aging/aging machine to transform back to his natural age and then report to none other than the floating skull, Blue Skull 13!  The plucky puppy then makes his way back to Jang’s house where the police and army are alerted. They storm the house led by Maruchi and Arachi, but the skull escapes along with his second in command, the evil green-skinned woman named Para.  The house blows up behind him leaving no clue as to where the skull may have gone.

However, the question of the skull takes a back seat to a more important event coming up–a Nuclear Scientist Peace Council is being held at a secret underwater facility. Jang’s father is a nuclear physicist and so Maruchi and Arachi are invited. The submerged convention center has everything an underwater resort could need but while the scientists are all relaxing around the pool, the facility is attacked by dozens of sharks belonging to an agent of Blue Skull. As all assembled scramble to the submarines before the domed resort is completely flooded a gigantic mechanical sea serpent makes its appearance and begins firing missiles at the seemingly doomed scientists!

The excitement continues as the movie takes us from Korea to the Arctic Sea to the Himalayas. Besides swarms of killer sharks and sea monsters, the heroes also confront yeti, a mermaid and the trained assassins of the Blue Skull before the heroes can take on the mastermind behind all their problems. Much of the movie is quite good and I especially liked how Arachi is treated as an equal to Maruchi. No one ever tells her to stay behind because she is a girl.  In fact, its just the opposite.  She is ordered out of the sub to take care of all the sharks (there are about 30) as her brother battles the sea monster. Her training is also the same as her brother’s both from the old man in the mountain and from Yang.

There are a few bad points as well. As an adult–I hated whenever Doli and his dog appeared.  Doli serves as a child identification figure. He does not advance the plot at all. His dog Jumbaki does more than he does including figuring out how to work the de-aging machine, finding the Blue Skulls lair and stopping a sniper from killing the heroes.  However, his tinny barks are earsplitting and he is never a welcome sight on screen because of them.

Unfortunately, there is not yet a subtitled DVD but those interested in seeing classic Korean animation other than Robot Taekwon V may be interested in watching this anyway as it is a rare look at cartoons of the past.

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