Undoubtedly the most widely distributed North Korean film outside of its own country, Pulgasari is a rare attempt in North Korean cinema to use themes from the “mainstream”.
Utilizing the talents of Shin Sang-ok, Pulgasari was used talent from China and Japan to recreate the old Korean myth of a village who construct a monster to defend them from attacking hoards. Kind of like Seven Samurai but with a giant metal-eating monster made out of rice instead of… seven samurai.
The man who played the trudging Pulgasaru was in fact Teruyoshi Nakano, a Japanese man also known for playing Godzilla in a number of films. The film is quite well known in Japan.
The subject matter proved useful for director Shin Sang-ok, because when he left North Korea and moved to the USA he used virtually the same script to produce the woeful kids’ adventure The Adventures of Galgameth.
Interestingly (and I use the term “interestingly” very loosely here, and it can maybe only be applied if you spend an inordinate amount of time watching movies like I do) the story of a community that builds a creature to defend them has several themes in common with the old Jewish folk tale of the Golem.
This tale, of course, was brilliantly realised on screen in Carl Boese and Paul Wegener’s silent classic Der Golem (1920). Recently, Black Francis formerly of the group Pixies produced an all new soundtrack to the film which is now available on DVD.