All that Ahn Hee wanted was to have the beautiful wedding day she had always dreamed of, but no one seemed to care. The police ran away when she asked for help, and then her hairdresser ran away in the middle of doing her hair! Where are these people’s priorities? Just because there is a 300-foot monster tearing through the city doesn’t mean Ahn Hee shouldn’t have her special day.
It all started when the aliens from planet Gamma decided to conquer the Earth, starting with Seoul. They put buckets on their heads, spray-painted them silver, and flew to Earth on a flying saucer. I’m not sure why they needed buckets on their heads inside their ship. Maybe they couldn’t afford air, or whatever they breathe, if they breathe. Maybe they just like having buckets on their head, like an emotional support bucket. If United Airlines can allow an emotional support donkey or peacock on board, why shouldn’t Gamma Airlines let people put buckets on their heads? A fucking peacock! It’s true, it really happened. A turkey, too, and a pig, and a monkey. It’s a goddamned Noah’s Ark up there!
Anyway, the dastardly space aliens have come a long way to take over the Earth. They have a scary monster that they miniaturized and they send him down to Seoul, where he grows into a big, snaggletoothed kaiju with a permanently gaping mouth. He starts stomping on cars and ripping chunks out of big buildings, just as all good kaiju do. They probably all share some badly xeroxed loose-leaf handbook in a locker somewhere. The kaiju is fun to watch, but if he is going to conquer the entire world by hand (or claw), it’s gonna take a while.
Speaking of claws, the studio went ahead and paid to have a giant-sized claw and foot manufactured. The foot is not so well made, but you can recognize it as a foot after tilting your head and squinting a little. They made the hand/claw for when the monster scoops up poor Ann Hee. He carries her around through the entire film, but the Kaiju-suit's gloves are pretty stiff, so he carries her in a very loose grip. She definitely would have fallen to her death at least a hundred times over.
So that’s pretty much it for the plot. Aliens come to Earth, they use a giant monster to attack a city, and eventually, stock footage of American saber jet stock footages kills the beast, and the aliens leave. That would be enough to constitute a satisfactory kaiju film, but Space Monster Wangmagwi has more to offer. Unlike most kaiju films, Space Monster Wangmagwi includes a hefty dose of comedy. Not just a little comic relief, but enough gags to arguably change the film from science fiction to parody.
There are a lot of goofy characters stumbling away from the monster who say things that I’m guessing are meant to be funny. More often than not, they are just very strange. For example, a group of 30 or more people are stranded in a half-destroyed building. The monster is outside, slowly wreaking havoc as it lumbers around in its wrinkled foam rubber suit. Everyone is shuffling and jostling as they panic. Then, the camera stops on one man who is in gastrointestinal distress. He frantically searches for a newspaper, and when he finds one, he spreads it out in a completely unconcealed corner. He drops his pants, squats down amidst everyone, and grins with relief as he empties his bowels. By the way, true story, this happened to me at the 79th Street subway station in New York City where I grew up. I was not the one perpetrating the scatological misdeed, but the man standing not 6 feet away from me was.
Anyway, back to the film. As if this “joke” was not side-splittingly hilarious enough in and of itself, the camera then cuts to a woman who has dropped to the ground and is giving birth. We see her scrunched-up grimace as she tries to push the little tyke out, but then the camera crosscuts to shots of our shitter’s grimace as he struggles with a different orifice. Is that a joke? I’m not sure. It seems like it’s meant to be.
Excrement aside, the best part of the film is when a scrappy young street urchin quickly clambers up the kaiju and jumps inside its ear. The little boy’s name is Spider and he wields a small steak knife. He slices through poor Wangmagwi’s eardrum and tries his best to do as much damage as he can. He gets tired of stabbing, and so he drops his pants and pisses in Wangmagwi’s ear canal. Then, he falls into the monster’s nose and ends up swinging dangerously by a nose hair for a while. He pays a visit to Ahn Hee in the monster's hand and, eventually, they are both saved by the handsome hero, who has parachuted out of his saber jet and grabs them both on the way down.
The film is reported to have 157,000 extras, but you never see more than 30 people on screen at once. It hardly seems like there are more than 100 people in the film. Maybe it was some kind of Ponzi scheme.
The miniatures were pretty good. They were not as extensive as Toho’s, but they were more detailed. Space Monster Wangmagwi was made by The Century Company. IMDb has a page for them with a list of their films “sorted by popularity ascending”. I will reproduce it here:
1. Space Monster Wangmagwi
Yeah, that’s it, that’s the list. At least it is in the proper order. The film was made in 1967, and is the oldest existing kaiju film in Korea. It was directed by Kwon Hyeok-jin. There is a list of all the films he made on Letterboxd. I will reproduce it here:
- Space Monster Wangmagwi
Overall, it’s quite an entertaining film. The foley alone is worth it. I’m guessing all they had were some scraps of wood and a few muffled stock clips of rocks rolling around. When Wangmagwi stomps on a car or a house, you just hear what sounds like a single twig snap. Regardless, I am grateful to whoever unearthed this gem, and to Sub Rosa Studios for releasing it on DVD. I took a look at their website to see what else they had added to the vast canon of cinema. Here are a few tantalizing titles.
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