The North Korean movie PULGASARI, though it featured a giant monster, was a parable about a weapon of mass destruction turning on its creators. GALGAMETH, though a remake of PULGASARI, is a low-budget, straight-to-video, badly-acted and -scripted kiddie movie about a giant monster that restores its teen master to his rightful throne as King Douchebag.
PULGASARI, for all its low production values and comical process shots and man-in-suit daikaiju, aspired to the GOJIRA ethos of embedding a deeper message within its goofiness. GALGAMETH aspires to getting teenage boys laid.
In its first few seconds, movie loses its credibility and our interest, when we see a medieval setting, and within this, a modern all-Amurrican teen boy with a flopsy hairdo and surfer vernacular (i.e. smartass with the acting prowess of a skid mark) being accosted by knights and forced to joust. Turns out his opponent is only his father the King, encouraging Modern Teen to become a man, at which he drastically fails. Now you can rest assured that screenwriting classes taught writer Michael Angeli to include a climactic payoff scene where Modern Teen must joust to save the day, which he does, but this scene is so contrived, with no effort expended on the hero’s journey that it is a cheat, that means nothing and tugs at none of our emotions, except anger. (By the way, PULGASARI’s Korean writer Shin Sang-ok is credited in the film as Simon Sheen – because racism.)
Made by Americans, about Britons, shot in Romania, GALGAMESH annoyed me even before it began, with its snide phonetic similarity to “Gilgamesh” (the king of Uruk in 2100 BC, immortalized in the Sumerian poem The Epic Of Gilgamesh). Were they trying to inspire some kind of majesty-by-association?
Young Devin Oatway is Modern Teen Prince Davin, whose father the king (Sean McNamara, also the director, with the acting prowess of TJ Miller) is poisoned by his liege, the black knight El El (Stephen Macht), who then usurps the kingdom from Davin by staging a military coup. But he does not openly reign like a tyrant, rather starts implementing republiKKKan policies “in the name of King Davin” which makes the kingdom hate their supposed new boy-ruler (all dogs thrown out of castle, all boys conscripted into army, all books burned – see? You thought I was kidding with the republiKKKan tag…)
Before his death, the King gifts Davin a small sculpture of a dragon that he calls Galgameth, imploring it to “protect my son.” He tells Davin: “When it comes to life, it can only be destroyed by that which gave it life.”
Davin escapes with this totem, crying tears of an eye-dropper onto it, which brings it to life. (And why would tears bring it to life? Magic who cares fuck you.) The six-inch figure looks like a cross between Minilla (Godzilla’s son) and a Ninja Turtle. Keep in mind, this is 1997, and 1993’s JURASSIC PARK had shown us how to do giant beasties right. But due to budget, McNamara and company use 10-year-old Suitmation tech (used in 1985’s RETURN OF GODZILLA) to give this creature big movable eyes and a pliable plastic mouth in an effort to either humanize it or horrify us with its inhuman grins and Urkel camera takes.
The thing eats iron and grows. Weapons, kitchen esoterica, chains, etc., until it is dwarf height (Felix Silla in the small suit), still looking like Minilla, whereupon the stupidity quotient skyrockets as Davin, on the lam, disguises the lumpy dragon in clothing, enters a tavern and passes off this frog-mouthed deformity as his sister. It’s enough to score him the attention of the local wench, Julia (Johna Stewart), who teaches Davin to swordfight like a 12-year-old schoolboy in one easy lesson, and then shows him around her Medieval Vagina (which must have smelled like month-old laundry under that tavern-drenched dirndl skirt).
Galgameth the dragon grows to Godzilla size, and the movie’s one redeeming factor is that the large version puts the great Doug Jones in the daikaiju suit (who would go on to become infamous monsters in PAN’S LABYRINTH, HELLBOY’s Abe Sapien, and THE SHAPE OF WATER). He now eats armor, cannon, and in an homage to PULGASARI, he even eats a giant bell (which was the instrument of Pulgasari’s death when his mistress hid within it). Even so, Davin continues to infantilize the monster by calling it “Galgy,” pandering to this film’s target demo. (Hell, even the outro credits list “Little Galgy” and “Big Galgy” – way to step on your own cred, movie.) And even though he’s the great Mr. Jones, his animatronics retain a goofy visage to not alienate that demo.
Davin and the villagers use the giant metal-eating Galgameth to re-take the kingdom from El El (honestly, Stephen Macht is the only actor in this travesty taking it seriously, probably because he’s fantasizing that he’s Alan Rickman). We get the Godzilla-styled shots of the monster smashing through small castle sets, with the process shots of soldiers running and screaming in the foreground.
Movie goes through the rigmarole of El trying to kill the dragon in various ways, at one point burning him, with Galg resembling Godzilla in DESTOROYAH (1995), only with much cheaper molten skin effects. Most of the movie is played like a comedy or farce, with that “kooky adventure” soundtrack. So it is almost a redemption of the movie itself when it ends with Galg sacrificing himself for Davin. Almost.
Y’see, PULGASARI had a very disturbing coda, which gave that movie gravitas: after the presumed “happy ending” of overthrowing the evil king, Pulgasari continued to eat iron, ravaging the very homes and livelihoods of those he had just helped – he was an allegory for a WMD turning on its own creators. GALGAMETH has no such message, the filmmakers opting to keep “Galgy” a good guy. Figuring out the contrived magic-who-cares-fuck-you rules (“that which brings it to life will kill it” – i.e. salty tears – salt water – ocean), El El kidnaps Davin and lashes him to a boat mast, to lure Galgameth into the sea.
Part TERMINATOR 2, part SON OF KONG, Galgameth’s heroic death is undermined by the effeminate beta-male boy-king with the middle-American 80’s hairdo, as he wails in his girl’s voice, “No, Galgy! No, Galgy!” Galgameth howls in pain with every step he takes into the water, as his skin catches fire. As he sinks under the waves, at least he can rest in peace, knowing he saved the douchebag…
But this kiddie movie can’t leave Galgameth dead. Already having lost all credibility with their atrocious casting, set dressing, fight choreography, special effects, the filmmakers figured they might as well pour on the syrup for a skin-crawling unearned happy ending as well: on the beach the next morning, Davin and Julia find the original small stone statue of Galgameth…
Well, there was SOME sort of meth involved in the making of this movie…