In 1978, director Shin Sang-ok was kidnapped* and taken to North Korea by Kim Jong-il, then the son of the country’s leader. Shin resisted being in North Korea and after two escape attempts, he was re-educated and learned why he was in the country: He was to make several films for the movie-loving soon-to-be despot of the nation.
The last of these films was this giant monster epic in which there’s a hidden message: the monster is really Kim Il-sung, who has betrayed the people’s revolution for his own gain.
In the past of Korea, life is tough. An old and imprisoned blacksmith makes a small doll and in his last moments, demands that the gods create someone to help the oppressed. When his daughter’s blood gets on the doll, it comes to life and begins eating iron and steel, growing in strength with every meal.
Despite aiding the people against a governor, the king sends so many men and kills so many people that Pulgasari voluntarily chooses to die to save everyone. He is reborn when the blacksmith’s daughter — who has lost her father and fiancee to the king — bleeds over the grave, bringing the monster back to life.
The problem is that even after he kills the king, Pulgasari’s hunger will never end. The villagers willingly give him the tools they need to thrive and he always wants more, so our heroine hides inside a metal bell and allows the creature to devour it. Their psychic connection causes him great pain and his stomach explodes.
The crazy thing is this movie has Toho effects. When they were hired, they thought they were going to China, not North Korea. They were well taken care of, as when special effects artist Teruyoshi Nakano said he missed Japanese beer, his entire hotel fridge was fully stocked the next day.
Even crazier, if that’s possible with the whole origin of this movie, Pulgasar was sold in Pakistan as Zombi 34: The Communist Bull-Monster, which affirms to me that a movie can have any story and work within the Zombi numbering system.
*They also took actress Choi Eun-hee, who was his ex-wife and forced them to remarry. They stayed married afterward, even after coming to the United States. After two years of hiding in Reston, VA, Shin and Choi moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as Simon Sheen, directing 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up. I did not make that up.