So what am I working on right now?
Well, I could be working on Lexx Unauthorized, Volume II, revising and preparing it for upload. That’s written, I just need to fine tune it. I’ll get that done soon, though.
I could be working on a short story collection called Dark Places Have No Doors , the stories are written, it’s just a matter of commissioning a cover, and getting it edited and uploaded. I’ll get that done soon, though.
I could even be working on The New Doctor, or the Greatest Unauthorized Doctor Stories, Axis of Andes, some additional material for The Luck that Lorina wants, yet another collection of horror stories, a couple of collections of humorous fantasy and sci fi, Princess of Asylum, A Change of Life, etcetera, all knocking around my hard drive, waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. All of which I’ll get around to, sooner or later.
But what I’m working on right now?
A novel about a 1967 giant movie monster from Korea called Yongary?
Why? Shut up! That’s why!
Is that a good answer?
But bear with me, maybe I’ll have a better one.
Why write a novel about something so cheesy as some third rate Godzilla knock off? Even writing a Godzilla novel would be pretty cheesy. That sounds like some surefire, sad sack, fanboy, never going to get a girlfriend stuff. Why commit to writing something so cheesy and lowbrow that dogs will laugh at me, children will throw sticks and my cat will pretend it belongs to the neighbor?
I suppose I could point out that in the last three years, there have been two Godzilla movies from Legendary pictures, a Godzilla movie from Toho, another King Kong movie from Legendary, two giant monsters/robots movies from Guillermo del Toro, and four giant robot movies from Michael Bay, all of which make metric tons of money and get public and critical respect. So if I want to write about giant monsters, then I’ll damned well write about them.
I could point out that I’ve released two books lately, The Bear Cavalry and Giant Monsters Sing Sad Songs, was an ‘Official Guest’ at San Diego Whocon, and wrote a major novel, The Luck, now edited and delivered to publisher. The Luck and Change of Life, another project were huge and physically and emotionally draining.
So why not just do something light and fun, a palate cleanser. I paid my dues. It’s not as if there’s anyone out there in the world sitting on tenterhooks waiting for the next D.G. Valdron epic. It’s crickets out there folks.
So, why not do something fun
I grew up working at a Drive-In. Also, at a garage, and a motel, and a car wash, and a junkyard, and wood shop. My family were what they call entrepreneurs, so lots of ambition, lots of family enterprises, and lots of things to do.
But the Drive-In was something. It was my springs and summers and falls. It was every night. It was a rhythm all its own.
Do you know what that is? A Drive-In Theatre?
Or are they all long gone?
Basically, it was an outdoor movie screen, cars would come and park in stalls to watch the movie. Our drive in had these little hills or ramps, so your car would be elevated upwards, to see the screen better. You’d pull up to the post, and get a speaker that was hanging there. Years later, some of them switched to radio, a limited range AM band, and you’d just tune it in. There’d be a projection building which was also a concession stand, you could get your popcorn, soft drinks, hamburgers and hot dogs. We’d play two movies a night, sometimes three, and I’d be around for the whole thing.
At some point or another, I did everything back there. I worked in the projection room, rewinding reels, assuming more and more tasks, including keeping the carbon arcs going, or changing the projectors over, peel potatoes in the back for fresh French fries, made popcorn, did security, I’d pick up and drop off the heavy film cannisters and have conversations with the guy who shipped them back and forth in his truck, repairing speakers with a soldering iron. You name it, I did it. I was good with money and trustworthy, so I ended up in the later years mostly running the ticket office. And clean up, after supper, before it was dark enough for the show, me and my brother were out collecting all the trash from the night before.
This was the 1970’s, back when there was only one or two television channels, before cable, before VHS and Beta, the 600 channel universe, before DVD, youtube, streaming, what have you. Basically, what you had for entertainment was the one local radio station, a couple of TV stations, and the Drive-In, so we made a living.
You hear about the publicity stunts all these little movie houses would do to attract audiences. We didn’t really have much of that. We had a monthly program, and we put up movie posters in two or three places. My Dad would have been right into that though, if we’d have gotten away with it. If he’d had a spare gorilla costume, I would have been marching up and down wearing it, any time we had an ape movie. He attached speakers to his pickup truck, and we’d drive around town together every evening, announcing the shows, along with the cheesy tag lines – “If this doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight.” My father, he had a bit of a showman in him.
I got to see all kinds of movies, good ones and bad ones, art house flicks, serious movies, French sex comedies, Italian spaghetti westerns, British Carry on films, Hollywood horrors, poverty row trashers, Toho monster movies, you name it. Night after night after night, an unending diet from sludge to the sublime, all in place of the normal growing up you’d expect to do as a teenage boy.
Which brings me to giant monsters. There’s nothing like seeing Godzilla trounce Mechagodzilla on a sixty foot screen, fireflies flickering in the meadow below the screen, just enough moisture in the cool night air to cling to car surfaces, badly dubbed dialogue, badly rendered through tinny speakers, and crickets, with that stirring Ikufube score, all brass and strings, and not really caring because hell, the original script was incomprehensible in the first place, so nothing of value was lost. But they were big, my gosh they were big, and serious, and the whole thing was gloriously epic.
I don’t know what the words are to properly describe it. But somehow, they were just right. Any other way to watch it, that was just small. And Godzilla? Godzilla is meant to be big.
I love those big rubber suited bastards, I just purely love them. And I know that you can see the zippers, and the wires, and it’s hammy nonsense. But I still love them.
And I can even have a serious discussion about them, about the themes they played with, half unconsciously, about what they represent and how they evolved and how society evolved around with them. That’s not for here and not for now, but I can do it. Just because I like stupid stuff doesn’t mean I’m stupid, that would be a dangerous mistake.
I just love them.
Which brings us to Yongary. South Korea, 1967.
Little bit of background on our boy here. Giant monsters started showing up in the movies back in the 1950’s, the 1952 re-issue of King Kong, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Godzilla itself. A pretty standard formula established itself – giant-ass monster shows up, does damage, someone figures out how to kill it dead. It was a pretty thin formula, come to it, and by 1960 it had largely exhausted itself and the genre died off.
Except with Toho pictures in Japan. Godzilla had been their one giant international success. So they were minded to ride that pony till the legs fell off. They figured out a way to rejuvenate an exhausted formula – add more monsters. Go figure. In short order, monsters battled like professional wrestlers. Aliens and sci fi elements were added. Then kids. Then pollution themes. They grabbed elements from everywhere, just adding more and more to the mix, and in short order created the world’s second Cinematic Universe, fifty years before Marvel.
[The world’s first Cinematic Universe was the Universal Monsters back in the 1930’s. But that’s a discussion for another time.]
This was the 60’s and 70’s, as I was growing up, so I was right in there for it, and in the seventies, I was watching this stuff two or three times a week at the drive in.
So anyway, in the mid-1960’s, there was a ‘giant monster bounce.’ All these other Japanese and Asian companies were seeing Toho make out like bandits, so they jumped into the giant monster pool themselves. The most successful of these was Daie, which created two franchises – DaiMaijin, a medieval trilogy about a giant statue that comes to life, and Gamera, about a super-powered, jet propelled giant turtle. But everyone was getting involved, you had the X From Outer Space, Gappa the Triphibian Monster, Ultraman, Atomic Dragon from other Japanese companies, The Magic Serpent from Taiwan…
And you had Yongary, Monster from the Deep, from South Korea.
Yongary’s an honest dead ringer for Godzilla. I little slimmer, a little darker, got a horn on his nose, but that’s about it. Between him and the big G, if one of them mugged you in a dark alley, you’d have a hard time picking which one it was out of a police line up. The resemblance was such that when the movie played in Belgium and Germany, the teutons just gave up and called it Godzilla.
The story is pretty straightforward – there’s a series of mysterious earthquakes. Oh no! It turns out those earthquakes are from a giant monster! It then proceeds to trash Seoul, shrugging off the might of the South Korean army, before someone figures out how to kill it. It’s basically a throwback to the giant monster movies of the 1950’s. There’s a subplot about a precocious little boy with his Itching-ray gun, some unwise comedic hijinks including some monster dancing – precocious little boys were becoming a thing in 60’s monster movies.
The usual criticisms come into play. It’s slow moving, the tone veers awkwardly, some of the special effects just aren’t that special… particularly when you’re watching it on 4 k or DVD/Blu-Ray levels of resolution, it takes the monster forever to show up. To all of which I say, meh.
On the other hand, there’s some interesting stuff going on – this film takes place barely fifteen years past the Korean War, where the entire peninsula was devastated, the monster emerges from Panmunjon where the Korean war armistice was formed, but the north is carefully never mentioned. So you can read Yongary as a metaphor for the horrors and destruction of the Korean War, a war that had simply stopped in 1953 without ending, without a winner or genuine peace, and could resume at any time. That’s very comparable to the original Godzilla as a metaphor for WWII and the atom bomb. And there’s a certain amount of Korean nationalism on display, notably in the made in Korea space program and Yongary’s penchant for destroying relics of Japanese colonialism. You can always find something interesting to read out of these things.
I’ll be honest. I didn’t see this one at the Drive-In. The South Koreans sold it to an outfit called American International Television, so it haunted late night television for a while, then it stomped through cable channel packages, and eventually wound up on VHS. As far as I can tell, it snuck past the Drive In circuit, which was firmly ruled by Toho. In a bit of irony, the film was lost in South Korea. The only way that South Koreans could see it was to watch a Korean language dub of the American version.
I’ve got a soft spot for the red-headed stepchildren of cinema. So I kind of like Yongary.
But here’s the thing.
Yongary is in public domain.
The beauty and terror of America’s old copyright registration system. There was a lot of movies that ended up in public domain. Night of the Living Dead, the Hideous Sun Demon, you name it.
But hey, Yongary is in public domain! Did I mention that? Isn’t that interesting?
Here’s the thing: If I was to write a Godzilla novel, both Toho and Legendary, separately and together, and with all the power their armies of lawyers could muster, would be screaming up my butt with surface to air missiles, napalming my ass but good.
On the other hand, Yongary is in public domain. So if I want to write a Yongary novel, about a hundred foot tall, fire breathing, biped dinosaur, smashing up a city…
Well, I could. I could just go ahead and do it. No lawyers, no obstacles. Perfectly legal. Absolutely nothing to stop me. I could even get a publisher, and see it published, just like a real book.
So that’s what I’m doing.