비천괴수 ⋅ Bicheongoesu ⋅ The Flying Monster (1984)
This article was originally published as “The Flying Monster” at Wtf-Film (RIP) in August 2010, and now seems as good a time as any to resurrect it. There is still no official copy of the film to recommend to those curious, but a trailer has been made available online by the Korean Film Archive (who also hold the film’s surviving 35mm elements) and a clip is available on Youtube.
If there’s one thing that I always find myself thinking in the midst of a Korean monster movie experience, it’s that whatever is on screen is certainly not what I was expecting. From the unnecessary rectal bleeding of Yongary, Monster From the Deep to Pulgasari’s unintentionally ironic anti-oppression narrative to Craig Robinson and Robert Forster’s supporting roles in the awful Dragon Wars and so on, there’s always something there to defy my assumptions about what should or should not be happening at any given time. 1984’s The Flying Monster, directed by veteran Jung-yong Kim, happily carries on in that tradition though, as ever, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The story, such as there is one, concerns a monster-obsessed paleontologist who, after his theory of monster resurrection (or something) is ridiculed by mainstream science, escapes to the Korean coast. There he spends his time wandering around and making goofy faces, looking for monster eggs so that he can destroy them before they hatch and cause trouble. A young female reporter poses as a maid to gain access to the paleontologist and finds herself growing unexpectedly close to his daughter, who is still very sad about the loss of her mother some time before.
Things become a bit complicated when monsters come crawling out of the woodwork, sinking ships, squishing people and stomping all over who-knows-what city. Eventually the monsters are all defeated (I think), and the paleontologist, his daughter and the reporter head off to make a happy family of themselves.
The Flying Monster seems to have been aimed at children, though I can’t be certain as I don’t understand a lick of Korean. All I know for sure is that its dramatic aspects are very, very strange. Interjected into the story described above is an entirely pointless subplot about what can best be described as a hillbilly, a robustly proportioned sleaze-ball in overalls and a dirty t-shirt, who keeps trying to molest the female reporter, at first by wallowing on her while she’s on a bus and later making a pass at her as she sleeps, for reasons unknown, in a tent on the paleontologist’s front lawn.
But even the supposedly normal central plot is handled in ways that just aren’t normal at all. Worthy of special notice is a bonding moment between the reporter and the paleontologist’s daughter in which they dance, awkwardly and at length, to Tony Basil’s Hey Mickey!, which I can only assume is used here without license (this doesn’t look like the kind of film that had the money to pay for pop songs, but I could be wrong). Then there is the later moment in which the reporter is, somehow, knocked unconscious. The paleontologists’s daughter responds by filling her mouth with water and then spitting it into the reporter’s mouth. Adorable!
With regards to the monster stuff, of which there is much, The Flying Monster is quite the misnomer. Rather than there being just one monster to contend with there are many, which rise from the sea and fall from the sky and creep up from pretty much everywhere else imaginable. There is no rhyme or reason to the attacks themselves, which arrive out of the blue and are over just as suddenly. A monster appears, stuff is smashed, and the military swoops in to blow the monster to smithereens – rinse and repeat. Involvement by the cast is minimal, for reasons that will become obvious momentarily, and generally amounts to someone ‘seeing’ a monster and reacting inappropriately. The reporter and the paleontologist’s daughter are prone to smiling at them, while the paleontologist himself huddles in a monster’s footprint and sleeps for a couple of scenes.
As for the footage itself, I’m not convinced that there is a single frame of original special effects material in the entire movie, a few terribly brief shots of full-scale monster feet excepted. The majority of the material looks to be sourced from various Tsuburaya series, notably Ultraman, The Return of Ultraman and Ultraman Ace (a cursory glance at some monster lists helped me identify Pestar, Seamons, Seagorath, Terochilus, Bernstar and Velokron, though I know there are others I’m missing). Perhaps the strangest of the lifted material is anamorphic footage of the gold and green dragon fight from the Taiwanese fantasy effort Monster From the Sea, which had already been repurposed for both Sea God and Ghosts and Fairy and the Devil.
No real attempt is made to merge the stock monster material and the newly produced drama, and the whole mess spliced together with wild abandon. There is no segues between the two material extremes – one moment people will be talking about this or that, the next some god-awful thing is sucking on a fuel storage tank. Taken as a whole the experience is more than a little off putting, like being trapped watching television with someone who keeps flipping channels between daytime soap operas and tokusatsu re-runs.
While released to VHS in the late ‘80s in its native Korea, The Flying Monster has had no representation on domestic home video, ever. Surprising, I know. Given its status as an international licensing nightmare, plundering three series’ worth of Ultraman monsters and Taiwanese dragon footage of uncertain ownership, not to mention its oddball usage of Hey Mickey!, I doubt that’s going to change anytime soon. Even if it were to suddenly become available I would be hard pressed to recommend it. The Flying Monster is for die-hard kaiju completists only.