By 1967, the Japanese monster movie boom was in full force with Toho’s never-ending series of films featuring Godzilla and his friends (SON OF GODZILLA and KING KONG ESCAPES) and Daiei’s third Gamera production (GAMERA VS. GAOS) while Nikkatsu chimed in with GAPPA, THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTER and Shochikku with THE X FROM OUTER SPACE. That same year even a South Korean film company got into the monster mash with this cult classic which is clearly modeled on Godzilla both in appearance and in film-making technique. Now, YONGARY: MONSTER FROM THE DEEP stomps once again on Blu-ray, courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
Mysterious earthquakes in the Korean countryside are eventually explained to be caused by an ancient reptile dubbed “Yongary” by the locals. After the monster makes his initial appearance, he of course goes on the rampage through Seoul. All conventional weapons appear powerless against him and it is up to brilliant Dr. Eee Loo Nami to devise a special chemical which when sprayed on the monster, causes him to die.
YONGARY made the jump from Korean theaters to American audiences via AIP-TV (American International Television) as part of the infamous package of Japanese monster films released directly to U.S. television. These titles include such gems as the Gamera series of films plus the aforementioned THE X FROM OUTER SPACE and GAPPA (aka MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET) in addition to two of the three MAJIN films and THE MAGIC SERPENT. Anyone who grew up in the New York City/Long Island area during the 1970s will remember with great nostalgia the frequent showings of YONGARY on New York’s long gone, but fondly remembered, THE 4:30 MOVIE. YONGARY also marks one of two efforts the Koreans made at roughly the same time. The other was the still unreleased-in-the-United States effort, MONSTER WANG-MA-GWI (1967).
YONGARY was obviously meant as a replay (some MIGHT say “rip-off”) of the Godzilla films. This is most notable in the destruction scenes where YONGARY walks through a building VERY similar to Japan’s Diet Building which Godzilla walked though in the 1954 original and which King Kong climbed atop of in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962). The special effects by Kenichi Nakagawa in YONGARY are passable, but are not up to the standard set by Toho’s effects wizard, Eiji Tsuburaya. In particular, the scenes of the monster shooting fire features an obvious metal pipe protruding from the costume’s mouth. Actually, a Japanese cameraman was recruited by the Koreans to help make this film look as much like the Japanese monster films as possible. Like in a lot of the later Godzilla films (and all of the Gamera movies), the plot involves a cute little boy, one who here witnesses and joins along as Yongary dances to a rock and roll instrumental on the radio!
Previously available on DVD for the first time in Scope by MGM as a “Midnite Movies” release (on a double feature disc with the U.K. monster movie KONGA) in 2007, Kino Lorber has now licensed the film for Blu-ray (as well as a separate DVD release) and the 1080p HD transfer is presented in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Although the titles reflect the AIP-TV version (which was originally shown on television in pan and scan only), this version of the film, like the previous MGM DVD, has a longer opening music sequence before the credits start to roll. The picture has crisp and clear detail (there are only a few softer shots which are likely due to the original cinematography) with rich colors and fine grain structure. The elements have some minor damage in the form of some scratches, nicks and speckling (mostly during effects and matte shots), but it’s nothing too distracting in the grand scheme of things. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound is mostly excellent, representing the classic AIP-TV English dub (including the voice of the late Ted Rusoff). There are no subtitle options on the disc.
Included is an audio commentary by film fistorian Steve Ryfle and genre journalist Kim Song-ho. Ryfle starts things by saying how as a kid in the 1970s, he rushed home from school to watch the film on “The 3:30 Movie” and actually built his own Yongary. This commentary here is thorough and packed with information, including how technicians from Japan were brought in to work on the film, that the man who built the monster suit also did the same for the early Gamera films, facts about the film’s director, and that a 48-minute badly damaged 35mm print is the only known version of the original Korean version still in existence (even when it was shown on TV in South Korea recently, is was the English language version with Korean subtitles). On a more brief basis, Kim Song-ho helps fills in some cracks, telling how the monster’s name was constructed and he sheds light on the film in relation to Korean culture. Rounding out the extras are a PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES "Trailers From Hell" segment with Joe Dante and a trailer for THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD. (Joe Cascio)
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