Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree: Yonggary 1999

Several production companies saw the success of the 1998 Godzilla, and smelled money. A few went through ther back catalogues to see if they had any monster franchises to mine. Daniel Pink was rumored to be working on a remake of Reptilicus before his death in 2002.

South Korea looked at its 1967 Yonggary, and decided it was time for a remake. In 1999, enormously popular comedy director Hyung-rae Shim released Yonggary in South Korea. It was not as popular as hoped, and he subsequently reworked (According to Wikipedia, approximately 60% of the film was changed for the 2001 release) it for release in foreign markets. I do not have access to the 1999 version, and like the original Yonggary, it's possible that the original version does not exist. So I'm working with the 2001 version, in the timeline of the 1999 version. Like its inspiration, the 1999 Yonggary creature bears very little resemblance to the previous feature, making it the progenty of 1998 Godzilla that is most like its' parent. The new Yonggary is more human, muscular in build, with spiky pauldrons on its shoulders. The head now has three horns,and the nose horn is practically vestigial.

Yonggary. Looking crappy with his 1999 CG.

In order to appeal to a more international audience, the director chose Caucasian actors, and shot the film in English. The plot proceeds that an underground expedition is exploring some caves, and come across a boneyard of giant creatures. Oddly, this feels like it was the inspiration for Gareth Edwards Godzilla, which features a similar scene of the protagonists discovering a gigantic skeleton.

Dinosaur and giant monster graveyard.

They come to what they've been seeking, a glowing red rock, and take a swing at it. Cue fiery holocaust.


And then we're in space. Hey, there's going to be aliens in this movie!

Aliens. I wonder if they're going to try to control a monster.

The film's major failing is its dialog, delivered by actors that are middleweight, at best. The human side of the story is utterly uncompelling, and the director spends waaaaaay too much time with the tyrannical director of the dig, and the crazy guy who knows about the prophecy that Yonggary will come back and destroy the world. Which means that we're mixing our ancient prophecies with our alien invasion, shades of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. The film functions in very broad cliches, really not bringing any new ideas to the genre. The prophecy is not actually from anywhere. Just a prophecy our crazy and government-hunted paleontologist happens to be aware of. This is the sort of paper-thin justification that makes a script sink, similar to Kraa and Zarkorr. And when a general stands on front of a United Nations Defense Agency sign and shouts that he takes orders from the President, it undermines the credibility of the script.

Credibility gap ahoy!

The aliens proceed with their reanimation program, and Yonggary's fossil come back to life. Again like Godzilla 1998, Yonggary is entirely CG, and from the perspective of 15 years on, it's not good CG. It also doesn't look like the original Yonggary. Wasn't aliens reanimating the dead is a major plot point from Plan 9 From Outer Space. When the military is deployed, they consistently miss Yonggary, and destroy buildings instead. Which is to be expected, since they're namechecking Sidewinder and AMRAM air-to-air missiles, rather than an air-to-ground missile. Maybe it would be better to attack kaiju with tank busters or the hellfire missile. Research isn't that difficult, people!

Yeah. That sort of CG.

The script has enough background in kaiju film to give us the footprint trope, though.

Love that footprint as evidence.LOVE IT!

Throughout the film, the military insists that Yonggary is going to desroy the world. And I have to wonder about that. It's just one monster. It's got some teleporting, but it will clearly take decades to destroy every major city in the world. Imagine it, even at gigantic walking speed. How long would it take for a kaiju to walk to every city of more than a million people on earth? In 2005, 335 cities worldwide had a population of more than a million. That's a lot of cities for one monster to knock down.

Stomp a bunch of people, RULE THE WORLD!

There is also a air jump with experimental weapons to the urban area Yonggary is trashing, yet another scene repeated (albeit with a vastly superior script) in the Gareth Edwards Godzilla. Of course, here the soldiers have experiemental laser weapons and jet packs. And it looks very silly.

We're going to destroy the monster with lasers! Deploy the sharks!

Once they have been deployed, the lead soldier says "Compared to this guy, Godzilla is a pussy." This sort of trash-talk seems to infest kaiju films that are insecure about their status in comparison to other films. We've seen this sort of interfranchise sniping in Gamera, Super Monster, Kraa the Sea Monster, and we will see it again in Godzilla: Final Wars. Trash talk does not make the film look smart or brave, just desperate to look better than something else.


It turns out that Yonggary, like virtually every incantation of Ghidorah, is being controlled by the aliens. And in a very specific reference to Destroy All Monsters, it's being controlled by an implant. This means the implant, like Yonggary, is some two hundred million years old, but apparently, alien technology is built to last.

Wait, I'm what?

There's a threat of a nuke being used to get rid of Yonggary, but deployed on a F-117 fighter-bomber, which to my surprise can handle the B61 nuclear bomb. B ut then the control diamond is destroyed, and Yonggary is no longer under the control of the aliens. And it abruptly turns into a heroic monster, of the late Showa Godzilla sort. It immediately demonstrates its niceness by holding up a crumbling building, allowing the humans below to escape.

Behold Hero Yonggary!

The aliens then deploy Cycor, their own monster. Cycor has four legs and two forward-projecting claws, an armored back, and a long tail with a club at the end. Cycor is a lot more spikey than Yonggary, letting us know it is both aggressive and the bad guy. It also has fire breath, but this is more of the fireball, rather than Yonggary's heat ray, and projects a lightning-like energy discharge from its tail.

Cycor! Who is sharp and has talons ans stuff!

The end of the film is the battle of Cycor and Yonggary, Yonggary having suddenly become our hero. As with a lot of the Showa-era Gamera films, characters cheer on Yonggary, so we know we're supposed to be rooting for him. This was goofy and annoying when children were involved, and it's doubly so when military officers sit helplessly and cheer on the monster they were trying to destroy not fifteen minutes ago.

Yonggary and the whippy tentacles!

Yonggary manages to burn a limb off Cycor, but it grows back as long, whippy tentacles that grab Yonggary. Another blast takes off the head, from which more tentagles grow. And then Yonggary fires its breath weapon down Cycor's neck stump, and the monster explodes. This is similar to Godzilla unleashing its atomic ray directly into Biollante's throat. Godzilla doees the same in Godzilla 2000, and Godzilla 2014. Although this film came out the same year as Godzilla 2000, Cycor and the aliens were added for the 2001 release, so it's quite possible G2K was in influence here.


The very end has Yonggary trussed up, being flown to an island where it can adjust to the 20th century. The masses of helicopters may have given Del Toro the idea for how to transport the jaegers inPacific Rim.

Better than the balloons used to move Kong.

I would be interested in watching the original 1999 Yonggary, but only once. The film is weighted down with terrible dialog, scenes that go nowhere, manufactured conflict, and paper thin character development. Even the monster destruction is unsatisfying, lacking any sort of emotional grip on the audience because we don't care who is getting stomped on.

That said, next week is going to be a weird one, as Greek food becomes the gigantic city-destroying monster. And I don't understand Greek, and I can't read the French subtitles.

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