Saturday, September 29, 2018

Galgameth: Pulgasari Minus the Murderous Dictator-Producer

A footnote to the weird production that was North Korea's 1985 Pulgasari is that the director, Shin Sang-ok, eventually escaped his captors and remade that kaiju film in 1996 as The Adventures of Galgameth. Until recently, I haven't been able to find a decent version of it, and then one popped up on Youtube. How could I resist?

The Adventures of Galgameth is what producers believe kids want in a film. It's mostly harmless pap, with virtually all the terrible things happening off-screen. It was also done on the cheap, for television. But so what? I've watched and discussed a lot of cheap kaiju films. The above connection to Pulgasari is enough to get me to write about the film, but the other impressive part of it is the cast. Among others, the film features Richard Horvitz,the voice of Invader Zim, Felix Silla, who played Cousin Itt in the Addams Family TV series, the body of Twikki in Buck Rodgers and many other sci-fil roles. Under the larger Galgameth suit is Doug Jones, memorable as the Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Abe Sapien in the Hellboy films, and the Amphibian Man in Shape of Water.

I'm so evil I brought my black cat to a joust!
And it's kind of a good thing that cast is neat, because there really isn't much kaiju goodness to dig into with Galgameth. The plot is predictable. A hapless prince in medieval Donnigold Castle is learning to be a man. His enemy is El El, the king's best knight, who we know is evil because he dresses in black. The Good King shows his son a box with the true protector of the realm, a small idol. A few minutes later, on his deathbed, the dying king (poisoned by El El) begs the little statue to protect his son. El El, as regent, then begins his predictable reign of tyranny, raising taxes, conscripting everyone to be in the Royal Army, and burning books. And Galgameth, the guardian again is activated by tears. So it clearly is a loose adaption of Pulgasari

Fun-sized baby Galgameth
Seventeen minutes in, however, the film demonstrates its inability to hold am emotional note. Or at least shows it's willing to sacrifice its emotional tenor for amusing kids' stuff. The Prince, having not eaten for days, mourning his father, wakes up to discover Galgameth has been animated. The film immediately lauches into a cutesy sequence of wonder as the two interact. I mean, people were being tortured just a couple of minutes ago, but we don't want to remember that. Galgameth has big teeth and huge blue eyes. He can jump! He eats metal! He's not just a guardian of the kingdom, he'll also destroy the prince's sadness.

Doug Jones as Galgameth

Galgameth and the prince join up with the local rebels. They feed the beast iron, and it grows. You can tell it's becoming a more serious monster because a horn begins to grow out of its head. It changes from Felix Silla in a suit to Doug Jones. As with Pulgasari, they trap it and try to burn it, only this time in a church rather than a cage. I am very pleased at this point that not all the news is delivered by weeping woman.

Much as I don't like the childish face of the initial, small Galgameth, I have to admit the expression is good. It grins seamlessly and charmingly. And it gets better as Galgameth turns into the more threatening, kaiju version of itself. The eyes blink, its brows and nose change and express mood.

During the initial assault on the castle, the defenders use some of the tactics seen in the first two Daimajin films. They dump carts of rocks, fire flaming catapults. But they also snare Galgameth, drag it to a pit, and then bury it. It didn't work in King Kong vs Godzillaand it doesn't work here, either. The assault on the castle resumes, and here we have some of both the best and the worst of Galgameth's miniature work.

What every bad CG kaiju looks like Suits and miniatures. Looks good
Galgameth's weakness is not actually tears, but salt water, which causes it to burn like it's made of magnesium. Evil El El drags the prince out in a boat, times him to the mast, and then sets fire to the boat. And it feels again like Return of Daimajin, with the prince playing the part of Lady Sayuri, El El standing in for Lord Mikoshiba.

And that's the end of the most interesting character in Galgameth
It would be a little complex for Galgameth to follow Pulgasari's ending, with the monster that was initiall;y so cute becoming becoming so large that it has to be destroyed. And admittedly, Galgameth doesn't have the burden of being a metaphor for capitalism. Galgameth, dying in the sea-water, is struck by lightning and conducts it to El El's ship, burning it. But Galgameth can't solve the human plotline, and the prince has to take care of business, killing El El, getting the pretty girl, and getting crowned.

It's not a horrible film. By the numbers certainly, but it doesn't loathe its audience the way the Atlantic Rim series does. If I had to scale it, I'd put closer to perfunctory film-making, more like Gargantua than Kraa or Zarkour. But the clumsy way in which some of the Kaiju action is handled does show that Shin Sang-ok, or possibly Kim Jong-il himself, did the right thing by hiring the Godzilla crew to do the miniatures work for Pulgasari. Galgameth's is pretty weak by comparison, even eleven years later. Galgameth has some good moments of Kaiju action, but it also has some really bad ones.

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