It’s a terrific time to be a kaiju or tokusatsu fan, with beloved classic series like Godzilla, Gamera, and Daimajin getting deluxe Blu-ray releases from premier distributors like Criterion and Arrow Video. Even the extensive Ultraman catalogue has received a huge push to home video thanks to Mill Creek.
But moving away from the hallowed halls of the genre’s most respected (and mostly Japanese) franchises, one company is putting in the work to bring the most obscure, odd, and left-of-center kaiju movies to American home video: SRS Cinema, perhaps best known as purveyors of SOV and no-budget schlock.
The 1967 Korean Film Space Monster Wangmagwi (우주괴인 왕마귀), which made its reintroduction at Fantasia International Film Festival, is their deepest pull yet. One of South Korea’s earliest science fiction efforts, the black and white film echoes the tale of King Kong while injecting it with the space-age sci-fi silliness of Japanese fare like the Godzilla canon.
In preparation for their invasion of the Earth, a crew of aliens in a spacecraft (a duct tape and cardboard affair) send “Wangmagwi”, a giant reptilian monster, to the planet to soften things up for their arrival. The creature, which responds to their controls via a radio transmitter, arrives in Seoul and dutifully starts wrecking the place, and the plot settles in on an unfortunate couple on the cusp of their wedding: He, the courageous pilot, called back to his base to battle the monster. She, the Ann Darrow of the tale, captured by the beast and carried around as its new favorite action figure.
It’s not a very good movie. The monster looks fast-moving and weightless, and aside from some fun miniatures, the effects are pretty poor overall. There’s some pretty groan-inducing humor involving dopey side characters, male chauvinism and a poop gag, and the less said about the score, the better.
But there’s one development that suddenly makes things a lot zippier; the introduction of our third protagonist. A street urchin kid encounters Wangmagwi and takes on the monster Ant-Man style, climbing up its body and entering its head through the ear canal and then going to town with his knife, rupturing its eardrums and producing a geyser of blood that literally paints the town red.
This kid rules.
While many kaiju film use the monsters to emphasize the ineffectiveness of military action or futility of bureaucracy, Space Monster Wangmagwi didn’t get that memo and notably deviates from the formula, making a show for Korean might in repelling the invader.
It’s hard to recommend or even defend Space Monster Wangmagwi, as it’s simply not very good, with little to hang onto and sexual politics even more dated than its shoddy effects.
But there’s a kind of charm to it as well, not to mention its historical significance as a nearly-lost film getting its second wind. The wild humor, dopey as it is, buckles against my own pre-conceptions of Korean culture of the era as totally straitlaced and conservative, and in its humble creation you can find a comparative lens with which to understand the evolution of the genre.
— A/V Out