AKA: The Flying Monster
Director: Kim Jung-yong
Cast: Kim Ki-ju, Nam Hye-gyeong, Kim Da-hye, Moon Tae-Seon, Kim Uk, Jang Cheol
Duration: 85 mins.
By Paul Bramhall
Korean cinema was in a strange situation during the mid-80s. After military strongman Chun Doo-hwan essentially elected himself president of the country in September 1980 after months of martial law and the infamous Gwangju massacre in May, filmmakers had to be more cautious lest they be seen as critics of the government Doo-hwan junta. To try and divert people’s minds from the bleak direction Korean politics seemed to be heading the country in, it has often been quoted that Doo-hwan introduced a “Three S” policy – representing sex, the screen and sports – to keep people’s minds busy. . The policy was perhaps most ironic to the film industry, as while stories about social issues, real-life events, and any political content were strictly prohibited, restrictions on displaying nudity were actually relaxed.
This led to the erotic film boom of the 1980s, and in 1985 the licensing system was changed to a registration one, also allowing many small independent production companies to start making films. This background is worth describing, since it was 1985 that director Kim Jung-yong decided to release The flying monster upon the world, or as it was to be released in the west, The war of the divine monsters. Korean kaiju movies aren’t exactly common, especially ones made in the 80s, but they aren’t unreleased either. In 1967 director Kim Ki-duk made Yongary, the monster of the deep (which would be remade by Shum Hyung-rae in 1999), and anyone else who has seen the 1976 Korea-US co-production MONKEY you are unlikely to forget it.
As a director, Jung-yong has specialized almost exclusively in making local kung-fu films, as well as working as an assistant director in Hong Kong Korean productions such as John Woo Hand of Death and by Peng Chang-Kuei Northern Tiger. After working with the likes of Casanova Wong (Rivals of the Silver Fox) and Dragon Lee (The 18 Amazons) in the 1970s, it would be the 1980s when Jung-yong would meet the man who would apparently become his muse: Elton Chong. Yep, if you’ve ever wondered who’s responsible for creating some of the most jarring slices of Korean kung-fu, Jung-yong is that guy. He directed virtually every production Chong starred in, from early 80s efforts such as The serpent strikes again AND Invincible obsessed fighteruntil the attempt to turn him into a sex symbol in the second half of the decade with titles such as The double trumpets in the nation AND Concussion of the double bed.
In The war of the divine monsters Chong is nowhere to be found, though watching him unleash his kicks at kaiju monsters is certainly an enticing proposition. Instead, we get kung-fu luminary Kim Ki-ju (Golden Dragon, Silver Serpent, Drago, The young master), here playing straight as a doctor convinced that dinosaurs are coming back to life. Watching The war of the divine monsters in 2023, Ki-ju’s theories blaming climate change (even if he doesn’t reference the use of those exact words) sound more convincing than they probably did at the time of his release. A reporter played by Nam Hye-gyeong (who would only appear in 3 more movies: kung-fu movies The Gate of the Flying Tiger AND Divine power and magical martial artsand the erotic drama Open Mouth Pomegranate) wants to cover up Ki-ju’s theory, but since it was ridiculed he has been hiding with his daughter, played by Kim Da-hye (whaling 2, Korean boy).
Either thanks to or despite her fantastic perm and investigative skills, Hye-gyeong tracks down Ki-ju at her remote home in the hills, and soon installs herself as the new housekeeper the local hospital has sent, disguising herself by placing a mole over her lip. Yep, a note to the Clark Kent is out there, carrying a handy fake mole in your pocket could be so much easier than always having to find a phone booth. But why is Hye-gyeong carrying around a fake mole? It doesn’t matter, it’s not that The war of the divine monsters wants you to worry! Instead, we have to bear watching Hye-gyeong and Da-hye bond together through dance lessons and doll hair brushing, while Ki-ju staggers through foliage and unfamiliar rocks with nothing but a hammer (it’s Korea, after all) trying to find proof. that the dinosaurs are back.
The basic details that are usually considered important to the language of cinema do not exist The war of the divine monsters. Where exactly is Ki-ju exploring, and why does he have sudden tantrums that see him fall to his knees screaming “Why does everyone think I’m crazy!?” while throwing local wildlife everywhere!? At one point he literally finds a dinosaur skull lying on a beach, which is fair enough if we are to believe it’s somewhere remote and remote, but just minutes later he’s talking to a local fisherman who complains about how all the fish have disappeared. Surprisingly, however, the lack of cohesion is not Jung-yong’s main problem as a director. This comes in the form of him having zero budget for kaiju effects, effectively rendering his production dead in the water before it even started.
Like the thawed dinosaurs Ki-ju’s character talks about, having no budget for the spectacle your film promises wasn’t enough to hinder the director’s resourcefulness. The war of the divine monsters was made around the same time that Hong Kong’s Godfrey Ho would begin pioneering the cut-and-paste style of filmmaking. In Ho’s case, his process involved shooting new ninja footage featuring the local gweilo people (and Richard Harrison), and then inserting it into little-known Taiwanese, Korean and Thai films to which he had bought the distribution rights international. Add in some questionable dubbing and editing techniques, and the result was a new film that could be marketed to appeal to the ninja craze of the time, made with minimal time and effort. Jung-yong’s approach was somewhat similar, only his approach was to reuse footage from Japanese tokusatsu performances and Taiwanese fantasy films.
It is impossible to know whether Jung-yong and Ho’s techniques influenced each other, however while Ho could at least claim to own the distribution rights to the films he butchered, it is more than likely that Jung-yong took a more liberal approach with the footage he used. Monsters from 3 series of Ultraman (Ultraman, The return of UltramanAND Ultraman Ace) make appearances, as well as short-lived ones Fireman series of 1973 and the Taiwanese production of 1971 The founding of the Ming dynasty. The fact that the monstrous effects of these productions were already more than 10 years old at the time The war of the divine monsters hitting the screens was presumably not a big deal, perhaps the choice to use such old material was intentional so as to draw less attention to itself.
The third ending essentially consists of a mega monster mix with barely a line of dialogue spoken, as a plethora of monster scenes that would have taken place much further apart (or even more likely, in entirely different episodes) are pieced together with reckless abandon. There’s a giant chicken-turkey hybrid type, an underwater bat-type creature, Godzilla-like monstrosities with horns, and a couple of random dragons. Basically, anything but anything that even vaguely resembles a dinosaur. Mixed in with scenes of Korean extras running in every direction and some horrendous acting (an unnamed couple see the man yelling at his wife that they have to run because a monster is coming, to which she calmly replies “Oh I need to do pack things, how close is that?” like it’s just an everyday occurrence), the whole sequence feels like an unapologetic chaotic mess of explosions and rubber suits.
The war of the divine monsters it is an undeniably bad film. It almost seems that director Jung-yong was not interested in directing the slices of erotica that were popular at the time, but at the same time he was smart enough to know the kung-fu genre that had been his staple up to that point. it was more fashionable. This was the result, combining typical Korean genre melodrama tropes (you better believe Da-hye asks Hye-gyeong to be his mother at the end!) with a B-movie plot involving dinosaur bones recycled plastic and monster footage from the early 70s. However, it’s just as hard to deny that there isn’t a strange charm underlying the blatant lack of budget and fake moles, as well as a Korean kaiju weirdness, The war of the divine monsters creates a fascinating snapshot of the era.
Paul Bramhall’s assessment: 5.5/10