Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il once had a kidnapped South Korean filmmaker direct several movies in North Korea, including a “Godzilla” ripoff that also served as propaganda.
Kim Jong-il, the father of the country’s current leader Kim Jong-un, commissioned director and producer Shin Sang-ok to make a kaiju movie based on Ishiro Honda’s 1954 film “Godzilla.”
The North Korean movie, titled “Pulgasari,” is considered a blatant rip-off of the beloved Japanese kaiju franchise and also served as propaganda that addresses North Korea’s view on socialism.
“Pulgasari” takes place in a village terrorized by an atrocious king who maltreats his subjects. The film, set in a unified Korea of the past, follows the story of a blacksmith’s daughter who creates a small monster figurine in the hopes that the trinket would one day save her village from the king.
Her dream of freedom becomes real after her blood drips on the statue and gives life to Pulgasari, a towering monster with whom she develops a special connection. During an eventual battle with the king, Pulgasari surrenders himself to prevent the blacksmith’s daughter from getting hurt. Following his death, the girl goes to the place where he was killed and resurrects him by using more of her blood.
However, the resurrected Pulgasari becomes dangerous and uncontrollable. To stop the monster, the blacksmith’s daughter sacrifices herself, ending her life for the sake of her village and its people.
Kim Jong-il expressed delight at the success of the movie after it was released in 1985. To show his appreciation, he reportedly gave Shin crates upon crates of gifts a year after “Pulgasari” was released. The crates contained 200 smoked geese, 50 freshly killed deer and 200 boxes of oranges, among others.
Kim Jong-il did not know, however, that Shin allegedly managed to hide a message in the 1985 film to criticize the regime at the time. Pulgasari, who becomes a danger to the citizens he should be serving and protecting, purportedly resembles the Kim family.
Who was Shin and why was he important?
Shin, a renowned director in South Korea, was kidnapped by North Korean agents under the order of Kim Jong-il about six months after his ex-wife, actor Choi Eun-hee, was also kidnapped in 1978.
The two celebrities, considered the “Brangelina of ‘70s South Korea,” were imprisoned for three years before being reunited. They were ordered to create movies that would help North Korea become recognized for its film industry.
Shin and his wife Choi, who died in 2018 at 92 years old, managed to escape the hermit country while visiting Vienna for an international film festival. After their successful escape, the celebrity couple shared a few smuggled audio recordings of the late North Korean dictator. In some of the private recordings, he can be heard criticizing his citizens and his country’s film industry.
Years after his escape, Shin reportedly denied interpretations of “Pulgasari,” saying, “It was a pure monster film. I didn’t put any ideology in it.”
Featured via Frank White