Pulgasari (Chosŏn'gŭl: 불가사리; RR: Bulgasari) is a 1985 North Korean fantasy-action monster film directed by Shin Sang-ok and Chong Gon Jo. The film starred Chang Son Hui and Pak Sung Ho and featured special effects by Duk Ho Kim, supervised by Teruyoshi Nakano. The film was loosely based on the legend of the Bulgasari. Director Shin had been kidnapped in 1978 by North Korean intelligence on the orders of Kim Jong-il, son of the then-ruling Kim Il-sung.
Kim was a lifelong admirer of the director, as well as Godzilla and other Kaiju films. He kidnapped the former director and his wife, famous actress Choi Eun-hee, with the specific purpose of making fantasy/propaganda films for the North Korean government. Kim Jong-il also produced Pulgasari (through Korean Film Studio) and all the films that Sang-ok made before he and Choi managed to escape from their minders while on a festival tour in Austria.
Teruyoshi Nakano and the staff from Japan's Toho Studios, the creators of Godzilla, participated in creating the film's special effects.
In feudal Korea, during the Goryeo Dynasty, a king controls the land with an iron fist, subjecting the peasantry to misery and starvation. An old blacksmith who was sent to prison for defending his people creates a tiny figurine of a monster by making a doll of rice, and before dying asks the gods of earth and sky to make his creation a living creature that protects the rebels and the oppressed. When the figurine comes into contact with the blood of the blacksmith's daughter, the creature springs to life, becoming a giant metal-eating monster who the blacksmith's daughter names Pulgasari, which is the name of the mythical monster his father used to mention as an eater of iron and steel.
After much suffering, the peasants form an army, storm the palace of the Governor and kill him. The evil King becomes aware that there is a rebellion being planned in the country, and he intends to crush it, but he runs into Pulgasari, who fights with the peasant army to overthrow the corrupt monarchy.
The film is based around a legendary creature called the "Pulgasari" (or "Bulgasari"). The original story was set in the city of Songdo (now Kaesong, North Korea).
Teruyoshi Nakano and the staff from Japan's Toho studios, the creators of Godzilla, participated in creating the film's special effects. Kenpachiro Satsuma – the stunt performer who played Godzilla from 1984 to 1995 – portrayed Pulgasari. When TriStar's Godzilla was released in Japan in 1998, Satsuma was quoted as saying he preferred Pulgasari to TriStar's Godzilla.
Jonathan Ross stated that the film was intended by the North Korean Government to be a propaganda metaphor for the effects of unchecked capitalism and the power of the collective.
There has been some speculation that the director Shin Sang-ok included a hidden message of his own in the film; the monster of the movie was to be interpreted as a metaphor for Kim Il-sung betraying a people's revolution for his own purposes.
Pulgasari has gained some popularity over the years because of the shocking story of Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee's kidnapping at the hands of North Korea's government. During their strange captivity in the country the Shin and Choi were, respectively, director and leading actress in a number of North Korean films produced by Kim Jong-il. The director and leading actress made together a total of seven films, for which the couple – who were separated before their kidnapping and eventually rekindled their romantic relationship while in captivity – was simultaneously commissioned and forced to do by North Korea's government. However, Pulgasari does not feature Choi, and it was the last film directed by Shin before he and Choi escaped to the United States.
The 2016 British documentary The Lovers and the Despot narrates and analyzes the story of Sang-ok and Eun-hee's captivity. It is directed by Ross Adam and Robert Cannan and it stars Choi Eun-hee, who revives the couple's ordeal and explains it in detail.