Long thought lost the Korean kaiju film Space Monster Wangmagwi (우주괴인 왕마귀, Ujugoein Wangmagwi) made its first North American appearance at this year’s edition of the Fantasia Film Festival. Shin Ultraman was the festival’s tribute to old-school kaiju, Space Monster Wangmagwi is the real thing.
Some aliens in a spacecraft that makes the ones in the early Gamera films look high tech and big budget have their sights set on taking over Earth. To do that they drop a radio-controlled creature from their ship and by the time it lands near Seoul it’s grown to a monstrous size and begins attacking the city. But even worse than that it’s caused Ahn Hee’s (Kim Hye-kyeong, Echo of Love and Death) wedding to Air Force pilot Oh Jeong-hwan (Nam Kung-won, Inchon, The Haunted Villa) to be postponed when he’s called back to base to fight the creature.
This leads to much pouting on the part of the bride-to-be and her mother who insist on preparing for the wedding anyway which puts her in the wrong place at the wrong time and Wangmagwi scoops her up Fay Wray style and carries her off.
And that’s about as much plot as writer Byeon Ha-yeong (The Demilitarized Zone) and director Gwon Hyeok-jinn give us. Most of Space Monster Wangmagwi is either scenes of the creature wandering around the city, stock footage of jet fighters or comedic skits involving those in the monster’s path. Among them are a man losing his pants trying to get on a truck, a man looking for something to use as toilet paper and two men betting who will be the first to run away from the monster. How funny you find them will depend on your sense of humour and how sober you are.
While all this is going on the Air Force is buzzing around doing a whole lot of nothing because attacking the creature would do too much damage to the city, and Space Monster Wangmagwi didn’t have the budget for that. About the only one doing anything about the monster is a street kid (Jeon Sang-cheol) who leaps onto it from a rooftop and ends up literally inside its head where he promptly pisses all over it.
Just like the film’s plot, Wangmagwi itself is much more comical looking than frightening looking. It doesn’t help that the suit doesn’t seem to quite fit whoever was inside. But with feet that look like they were made out of fuzzy slippers and a tongue that perpetually hangs out it really wouldn’t have mattered. The full size mock up of the inside of the creature’s head looks like it was made from cardboard and seems quite dry and roomy.
Space Monster Wangmagwi’s miniature effects, both of the spaceship and the destruction of Seoul are, even for their time not particularly good. The buildings look like plywood or plasterboard depending on whether or not they end up burning and lack the detail of those in Toho’s films. They’re also let down by sound effects that never sound like massive destruction. The ones accompanying a landslide caused by the creature are particularly poor.
Kaiju completists and those with an interest in the genre’s history will want to see Space Monster Wangmagw for its historical value. More casual fans may enjoy it for its emphasis on comedy and overall cheesiness in the same way they would something like Monster from a Prehistoric Planet or Yongary, Monster from the Deep. despite its less than great production values.
SRS Cinema, whose line of offbeat kaiju films include Uktena: The Horned Monstrosity and Monster Seafood Wars plan on releasing Space Monster Wangmagwi later this year. You can check their website and Facebook page for an announcement of exactly when.