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Korean monster movies on the horizon : Slate of upcoming films hope to find success at home

Mar 03,2017
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Several directors challenged themselves by making monster films in the 20th century. From far left: “Monster Yonggari” (1967), “Pulgasari” (1985), and “Yonggary” (1999). [KOREAN FILM COUNCIL] [GORYEO MEDIA] [YOUNGGU-ART ENTERTAINMENT]
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Though a number of Korean monster films have been made with little fanfare, more are soon on the way. From left, “D-War,” “Sector 7,” “The Host” and “Okja.” [SHOWBOX, CJ E&M, SHOWBOX, NETFLIX]
With classic franchises like “Godzilla” and “King Kong” making their return to Korean cinemas next week, some local moviegoers have started to wonder when they will be able to see the next Korean-made monster film. Though the Korean film industry does not have a long history of producing monster movies, a few determined filmmakers have bravely led the way over the past few decades. Audiences will soon be able to check out the fruits of their labor with a few monster movies currently in production slated to theaters in the near future.

One of the first Korean monster movies was 83-year-old director Kim Gi-deok’s “Monster Yonggari” (1967), which was directly inspired by the Godzilla films from Japan, the first of which was released in 1954. Kim’s movie later led to the creation of director Shim Hyung-rae’s “Yonggary” (1999). Late director Shin Sang-ok’s “Pulgasari” (1985), which he made while he was forced to stay in North Korea after being abducted to help develop the communist regime’s film industry, is another film of note.

The genre began to grow with the release of a number of monster movies in the past decade or so, including Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” (2006), Shim Hyung-rae’s “D-War” (2007), Shin Jeong-won’s “Chaw” (2009) and Kim Ji-hoon’s “Sector 7” (2011). Most recently, the 34-minute web movie “Night Rider,” directed by Kim Geon, was released via Naver’s TV Cast last year.

Among the several local monster movies, only “The Host,” which sheds light on a family struggling to survive after a mysterious monster from the Han River sends the nation into chaos, and “Night Rider,” about the battle between three special agents and monsters from traditional tales, were generally well-received by audiences with the former selling 10.91 million tickets and the latter’s four parts videos hitting over 5.4 million views in total.

Though “D-War” managed to sell 7.85 million tickets, it was criticized both by critics and audiences for having a weak plot and featuring unnecessary expressions of patriotism after the Korean folk song “Arirang” was played at the end of the film. “Sector 7,” which sold 2.24 million tickets was a complete flop with some online reviews going as far as to say that “’Sector 7’ made ‘D-War’ look like a masterpiece.” The director of “D-War” is currently preparing the film’s second installment.

As of now, at least four movies that fall under the genre are known to be in the pipeline and on their way to theaters. Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja,” starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal and depicting the friendship of a girl named Mi-ja who lives deep in the mountains of Gangwon and a mysterious creature named Okja, will be released on Netflix in June.

“Night Rider,” which will be re-worked and released as a new feature film, is preparing to start shooting next year.

The script for “D-War II” has just been completed earlier this week, with the film projected to arrive theaters in the summer of 2019, according to its director Shim.

Also, a story featuring a monster set during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) is currently in the works. The film, which will be directed by Huh Jong-ho of “Countdown” (2011) has not yet come up with its English title and is currently in the process of casting actors.

Despite efforts, the number of films being made under this genre remain to be relatively small compared to other popular genres such as political thrillers or action films that are usually well-received in Korea.

“Science-fiction monster films are not easy to make in Korea,” said Yun Chang-eop, the CEO of Moon Watcher that produced “Night Rider.”

“There are many obstacles in producing sci-fi monster films in Korea due to the underdeveloped technical skills and infrastructure [compared to the Hollywood] and because they require a large budget of at least 10 billion won ($8.9 million). To further develop the genre, improvements in the technical skills [of movie makers,] infrastructure and sufficient R&D need to be made.”

Yun added, “Since there have hardly been any successful predecessors, there is not much know-how about how to tackle the genre, so investors are quite reluctant to investing in the genre.”

Yun continued, “Korea’s film industry favors political thrillers, but on the bright side, I believe [the monster genre] could actually become an opportunity.”

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]