Pulgasari is an odd Kaiju film that came out of North Korea. It was produced and directed by Shin Sang-ok, a South Korean director who was kidnapped and taken into North Korea, and features special effects by the Godzilla effects team at Toho. It's complicated.
In the film, in feudal Korea, the evil King becomes aware that there is a peasant rebellion being planned in the country. He steals all the iron farming tools and cooking pots from the people so that he may make weapons to fend off the peasant army. After he returns the property to the people, an old blacksmith is imprisoned and starved to death. His last creation is a tiny figurine of a monster — Pulgasari, a Godzilla-like creature that eats iron. The blood of his daughter Ami brings the creature to life. Pulgasari fights with the poor, starving peasants to overthrow the corrupt monarchy — but eventually he turns on them.
The movie was released within Korea in 1985, and eventually shown to international audiences in 1998. You can watch the full movie here.
The film contains the following tropes:
- Always with You: Visualized after Pulgasari dies — the blacksmith's spirit emerges from the rubble as an energy being and enters his daughter's unconscious body.
- Anachronism Stew: The story is supposed to take place in the Goryeo period, but one of the weapons the bad guys use against Pulgasari looks like an oversized version of a singijeon or a hwacha, which wouldn't be invented until the Joseon period.
- Bittersweet Ending: The Governor and the King are defeated, but Pulgasari has become dangerous for the farmers and the blacksmith's daughter has to sacrifice herself to stop him. In addition, almost all the main heroic characters don't physically survive the film. There's the old blacksmith, of course. Ami's lover, Inde, fails to rescue his family. Inde himself gets captured and executed. Ami sacrifices herself to stop Pulgasari.
- Bizarre and Improbable Ballistics: Pulgasari manages to do an improbable perfect ricochet of an explosive cannonball... with his mouth.
- Blood Magic: Used to bring Pulgasari to life. Drops of Ami's blood make her father's figurine come to life. More drops of her blood help Pulgasari break out after the king has buried him alive.
- Buried Alive: After his first attempt to slay Pulgasari fails, the King tries to get rid of him by having a sorceress perform an exorcizing ritual on the monster which leaves him stunned, then having his men lure the beast into a pit where he falls and is then buried under lots of rocks and rubble. Eventually, Ami comes to the spot where Pulgasari was entombed and empowers him with some more of her blood, allowing him to jump out of the pit.
- Call-Back: The government seizing the farm tools is what leads to the rebellion in the beginning of the film. In the end, Pulgasari eats the farm tools.
- Eat the Dog: When General Fuan orders the rebel stronghold in the mountains surrounded to starve them out, the rebels make do with eating their horses.
- Foreign Remake: In 1996, Shin Sang-ok wrote an Americanized remake called Galgameth, directed by Sean McNamara.
- Go for the Eye: Although not big or glowing (aside from emotional indicators), Pulgasari's eyes are indeed his one physical weak point. A blow to the eye is the one time we see him bleed.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The blacksmith's daughter sacrifices herself by allowing Pulgasari to eat her (without him knowing) in order to prevent him from becoming both a burden and a threat to the farmers he helped rebel against. Yet, Pulgasari turns himself into a sphere of light and goes into her body, presumably reviving her.
- Kaiju: A "monster vs. Evil Empire" variety, with giant monster Pulgasari getting a decent amount of screen time as well.
- Made of Iron: Although initially crafted from rice, all the iron he consumed to become enormous made him mostly invincible to slashing and piercing. Attempts produced a clear metallic sound.
- Metal Muncher: Pulgasari's primary power, it's what lets him grow to immense size — and also what leads him to turn on the peasants.
- No Body Left Behind: Pulgasari's death is a result of the blacksmith's daughter's prayer, which turns him to stone and causes him to disintegrate.
- Not Quite Dead: Pulgasari's death by fire seemed assured, as he completely vanished from the scene as the flames subsided. Then he emerged, Burning with Anger, with beet red scales as he attacked the army before finding water to cool off.
- Our Minotaurs Are Different: Pulgasari is basically a huge-sized scaly minotaur.
- People in Rubber Suits: Low-budget moviemaking at its finest, with the guy in the Pulgasari suit.
- Pit Trap: The king tries this trick to defeat Pulgasari, digging a huge pit and luring Pulgasari into it so he can bury the monster alive.
- Public Domain: While Pulgasari never had an official international release outside of South Korea and Japan, North Korea's enemies like the US will often treat the movie as this out of spite for them.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Baby Pulgasari is a small, cute monster that eats needles.
- Rousing Speech: Inde gives one on the gallows just before he gets executed.
- Starter Villain: The Governor, the one who is directly oppressing the inhabitants of the village who form the bulk of the good characters. In fact, the very moment after he is killed is when the film first introduces the true Big Bad, the King.
- Storming the Castle: The rebels storm the castle and kill the governor.
- A Taste of the Lash: The Governor has the blacksmith whipped with a stick after the iron tools are stolen by the villagers.
- Tragic Monster: Pulgasari is dangerous only because of his hunger.
- Undignified Death: The King's definitely qualifies, as he is shown cowering and desperately searching for cover, chooses to try and hide by wrapping himself inside a curtain, and then gets squished by Pulgasari.