Making of 2001 Yonggar/Reptilian

NOTE: The infamy of this film has been cause to have companies delete all internet history of them having anything to do with this film. What is presented here is the most information you will find anywhere on the making of Yonggary. Sources will be listed at the end of this document. Bibliography to be added when submitted to G-FAN in May 2009. (never was published)1999 was a big year for Kaiju. It was the year the highly acclaimed by critics and fans Gamera series was coming to an end with Gamera 3: Incomplete Struggle (which has been compared to the original Gojira numerous times). It was a year when GINO was erased as Godzilla 2000 was released. And it was the rebirth of the new wave of Korean Kaiju films which is still having an effect today. And it was one critically bad film which saved Korea's kaiju and has such bought classics like "Gwoemul" (The Host) and action packed flicks like D-WAR: Dragon Wars. The film is called Yonggary, or in America and some European countries Reptilian. The film has reached the 10 year mark, did not stand the test of time, and yet is talked about to this day. But how can a film do all of this? This is what the first English making of document on this film shall explain.Before 1999, there were only three essential kaiju films from Korea: The Great Monster Wangmagwi (1967), Pulgasari (1985) and last but not least the most respected of these films: Great Monster Yonggari (Yongary Monster from the Deep)(1967). And that is all we knew.

Little did we know that since Pulgasari (1985) that a company called ZeroNine Entertainment and it's sub-division Younggu-Art (Younggu-Art is now a fully separate corporation from ZeroNine, but still gets backing from them) was making monster films. And they were all made by Korean Comedian Actor Shim Hyung Rae (or Hyung Rae Shim, however you prefer) and his character Young-gu. And his character is a famous character, who has been subjects to parodies of Rambo, Dracula, and kaiju films/TV series. In the late 80's, Shim Hyung Rae decided to take his character into his own hands and make various films. All of them were low budget films usually spoofing Japan's Super Sentai (AKA Power Rangers), Yongary itself, and even Jurassic Park. But none of these films never came to be released into US soil and have not been upgraded to DVD legally. But these low-budget films gained Hyung Rae Shim a cult status and a very wealthy man. And in 1997, Shim Hyung Rae, still following his kid friendly formula, decided to do what Peter Jackson wanted to do with King Kong: remake his favorite giant monster film Yongary. This project, at face value, had a great deal of potential. Korea's cinema was monster starved and most of Korea's films were either thriller, comedy, or drama, therefore lacking a variety of genres for the audience to see. Second, it would be the first kaiju film to have all the monsters be rendered through CGI(computer generated imagery), a technique that helped make the dinosaur sequences in the "Jurassic Park" films look fairly realistic. It also would have been successful with it's English-speaking cast hence a supposed money earner for Korea's film industry. But most of all, it would help modernize Korea's film industry. And while most of this failed some of it was succeeded. This film started Korea's special effects usage. Filming on Yonggary started in 1997 at a school near Kimpo Airport, also where shooting started. The school building, which was abandoned, was two storied and adjacent to restaurants. What a start for Korean SFX! Instead of using foreign FX houses, the production team turned the school into that. The bottom level was used for SFX shooting and out of what technology they would buy, CGI effects on the second level.

As the first Korean studio to do it's own CGI SFX on it's own without help of foreign FX houses, this was a revolutionary and good thing to happen to Korea's film economy, regardless if the SFX came out bad or not. However, Shim Hyung Rae did say,"We knew how to do special effects in theory, but not in practice. There was no one to ask about special effects in Korea." This reflects the fact that ZeroNine Entertainment/Younggu-Art is in fact the first SFX/CGI studio in Korea. A common misconception was that Yonggary is all CGI. This is false. A shocking thing to know is that there were suits for the monsters. Now, the two major monsters in the film are Yonggary and Cykor. With each suit taking no less than 6 months to make (in an interview, Shim Hyung Rae stated that " The creation of the monster suit took 1 1/2 years and a lot of money, but due to suspicion that the translator meant "suits" and not the singular form of the word, I am going to go with 6 months a suit), two different Yonggary suits were made (one black, one green). The green one was the suit more used, however for a LG commercial used the black suit. Only one Cykor suit was made, but made it with Shim onto the cover of a Korean Magazine. The suits were filmed like a Godzilla film and then replaced with CGI images. This is how they did it before simply wearing a blue suit with white markers on it. While this was done, some short clips of the suits are kept (you got to look carefully though). All of this was accomplished by just 40 people. These 40 people split into 2 groups of 20 people each and worked 24 hours again, one for day work and one for night work to get the film done in five months. Equipment used for the SFX/CGI work was an Arriflex III, an Arriflex BL-4S, and a high-speed camera. HMI and Tungsten lights were used on set, as well as small lights for the miniature buildings during the suit filming. Post-production CGI covering of the suits were done using Avid Media Illusion and other digital equipment. Hee-Jung Ryu, the Visual Effects Supervisor, claimed that one more piece of equipment, the SFX 200T, was a big help during post-production. The SFX shooting was finished a week after the 1998 American Film Market. After that was the shooting of the army equipment, which was supplied by the Korean Government and let Shim look at some of the weaponry of the Korean Self Defense Force.

Filming with the actors was just as experimental as the SFX (which is why the SFX in Yonggary is "bad", because Korea never really dealt with CGI or even regular SFX at all before Yonggary). The opening cave scene is no doubt one of the redeeming scenes of the whole film (minus the soundtrack, unless you have seen the film in the original 1999 version). The beginning of the sequence was filmed in actual caves! Yes, two separate caves in Korea were used (but these caves are unknown). For the other parts of the scene, with the CGI, were shot in-studio. But instead of using a green screen, they used a white screen (but the monster sequences were shot with a mix of green screen and white screen shots). A scene by scene diagram of this scene can be found on the Korean-language version of the official Yonggary site (www.2001yonggary.com). For the in-cave scenes, Eastman EXR color negative 5245 film, Vision 500T 5279, and Kodak's new SFX 200T for the shoot. Cinematographer An-Hong Kim was very satisfied with all the stocks and with the suitability of the SFX 200T for the green screen and other special effects work (both cave and some Yonggary scenes).An-Hong Kim also said that for filming scenes of people and Yonggary at night, the Vision 500T was used to help expose the film properly, since the Vision 800T was not available (weather this is money wise or not is unknown).

Another point of the production of this film that is not talked about is the story and script. This overly-hyped film was sadly weak scripted with unnecessary comedy punchlines, which was most probably something that Shim wanted, taking into account as being a comedic entertainer. With the original story coming from Shim Hyung Rae, the script writer was a man named Marty Poole. A then obscure and still no-name screenplay-write Marty Pool was hired for Yonggary. A graduate from UTM with his degree coming in from communications, his involvement with the project was when film distributor Scott Vandiver introduced Marty to Yong Ho Lee and David Smites (both Yong Yo and David's IMDB accounts show no connection to Yonggary - but then again IMDB is not god nor is it perfect). Yong Ho and David were however partners in Media Films International (which no longer exists today), which was the company selling Yonggary internationally (and were for a time also going to distribute internationally Imoogi, which would later turn to Showbox and be retitled D-WAR: Dragon Wars). So, with being connected with Media Films, they offered Marty the job of scripting the film. Marty Poole would later comment on his experiences with Yonggary as "Two years of film school" that he was paid for.

Through this struggle, companies like Hyundai, Media Films, and Sambu Finance invested into the film, with the project gather over $9,000,000 (which was already three times the amount a normal Korean production costs). But only one company’s contribution really made a big stand out. On the site hari.co.kr, it documents along with photos that a ceremony took place for the contribution. Accordingly for press, the signing of the contracts between ZeroNine/Younggu-Art was held at the Korean Chamber of Commerce on February 3, 1999. With the money, Younggu-Art successfully bought Korea's first CGI processor. The Galaxian space ship was built and the inside with the aliens was built with everything else CGI, fallowing what was done with the monster suits. The sets were a job made harder than what it should have been. In a Hari internet report, they model buildings were made with the same materials that real buildings are made of: glass, cement, steel. This is a lot different from what Toho would use for their models, which would contain easily breakable substances. Pyrotechnics in the film were all real with the exception of both number's number one weapon: fireballs. But the impacts of the fireballs were real, showing some of the most stunning pyrotechnics in a monster film.

Advertising for Yonggary was a big influence on the public. American film magazines took up interest and Yonggary had a 10 minute promo reel at the Cannes Film Festival, which is a rare happening for any kaiju film. The film was impressive - since people usually expect promo reels to be pre-final product film (but this is not true). But pre-sale tickets were successful and retrieved a little over $10 million. Media Films International were successful into selling the film. Some of the countries slated to release the film were Germany, Poland, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, China, Taiwan and Latin America at the Cannes Film Festival alone. In the US the film was also promoted at the 1998 AFM, where Shim Hyung Rae was interviewed. Magazines like SFX, Fangoria, and Kodak published articles. Then, on July 17, 1999 the film premiered in Korea. It was a happy day. A parade in front of the Korean Cultural Center, which was where the film premiered, was marching with a life-size head to waist replica of Yonggary, with Shim Hyung Rae with the replica. The film was successful - till the critics came in. The film started breaking records and was looked internationally. But sadly when the critics hit it, the good-going Yonggary never finished the rest of it's right box office take to pay back all the companies which helped the production, who helped with advertisement, Sonokong for making wave after wave of Yonggary figures, not to mention foreign distributors in Pakistan and Taiwan who were the only countries to show the film other than South Korea, therefore needing to pay back the companies that originally bought the film in foreign domains, along with the need for profit. Out of this came the struggle to make the quasi-remake version of this film, also known as 2001 Yonggary, Upgrade Yonggary, or Reptilian.

Between the re-shoots, ZeroNine/Younggu-Art did another groundbreaking act: making the first theme park based on a Korean movie with a Korean-based character: Yonggary. The theme park opened on November 19th of 1999. A little later after the release of 2001 Yonggary (February 19, 2001), the parks were shut down. But in November 11, 2003 the park was opened again when Younggu-Art started early talk of D-WAR: Dragon Wars. But the park would be shut down again - permanently in May 2004 to make way for the D-WAR: Dragon Wars theme parks (which all they did was take down the Yonggary items and put up D-War Items). These Theme Parks were plentiful, with at least 30 in and around Seoul. The main attraction of the parks was a karaoke feature, which each theme park had 9 karaoke rooms. In the rooms, you would sing the song and then the walls would light up with a picture of an SD Yonggary character (green-overall wearing male Yonggary, pink dress wearing female Yonggary, blue overall wearing baby Yonggary, and just a SD Cykor) seeming to be singing along with the person. The person singing can have the karaoke session put onto CD for a cost. Other features included buying SD Yonggary dolls, experiencing space flight with a Galaxian space ship, and chatting with Yonggary statues.

Each location cost around $75 million won to make, with $18 million won used for the karaoke machinery alone. At the theme park in Seoul was the life-sized from head to waist model of Yonggary from the premiere parade, which you could take your picture with. The usage of the SD Yonggary character was successful enough to start merchandising with stickers and a still-lasting-to-today line of food products, mostly chicken nuggets. The other attracting was that people could take a picture in front of one of the three Yonggary statues. An interesting tale is the three Yonggary statues. Apparently modeled after Yonggary's appearance on the 2001 Upgrade poster, one was made to be in front of a theater in Seijong Cultural Centre in Seoul, where the film premiered. This statue was colored. The second, made of concrete, stands in the Younggu-Art Studio's parking lot. The third one was made for the Japanese promotion at the 2000 Tokyo International Film Festival. The third statue, with the colors on it now faded, is now somewhere in Tokyo, with a white base that says Yonggary in gray letters.

Re-shoots started in December of 1999, while plans for Imoogi (alter called D-WAR Dragon Wars) were still in production. The whole of the original Yonggary was changed, in fact more than 60% of the original film was changed into what we get to see now. The original score by Sung Woo Cho was replaced by a rather cheesy (that in a bad way) score by Chris Desmond, a no name composer. We also get major re-shoots. The re-shoots, again, starting on December 1999, were split into two units - the 40 SFX artists and Shim Hyung Rae stayed back in Korea at the ZeroNine/Younggu-Art home base while the screenplay writer Marty Poole directed the human scenes (you would think of this as a WTF moment). The CGI was remixed into not-much-more realistic looking images. With Marty Pool, an old bowling alley in California was striped and made into an army base. The making of the army base is a major turning point from the original Yonggary. The original was black/green and looked like a usual army base from a usual flick (GINO anyone?). The new one, built out of the aforementioned bowling alley was made into the silvery/white futuristic looking base. And with this change come more change: a new character was added to the film by the name of Mr. Mills, who is remembered as the government agent that was always on Harrison Young's butt. But some people did stay for the re-shoots, like Harrison Young, Donna Phillipson, and other actors. Marty Poole did, in a newspaper interview from his hometown, said some stuff about his experience re-shooting scenes stateside; "Harrison Young is a great guy - wonderful." The interview also mentions that bad monsoons attacked the sets at the beginning of re-shoots, making the re-shoots very uncomfortable and going off to a bad start due to a waterlogged set. But the monsoons were soon resolved and the rest of the eight-day re-shoot rolled along. Poole also said this, "They surrounded me by competent people. Overall, it has been a fantastic experience." This must have been an insane thing so say, since the last evening of the re-shoots was used filming 30 scenes for the 2001 Upgrade version of Yonggary.2001 Yonggary's promotion was bad. Media Films International were to set up an office in America for distribution, but due to money problems did not and altogether disappeared. Advertising was sparse. Little to none news paper ads were printed, barley any posters which are mostly exclusives, no "chirashi". He showed a video of the new footage at Cannes again, and had the same positive reaction that had intended. Internet promotion was used with a new Yonggary site in November 2000, which was not as widespread as hoped (but strangely had production photos from the original shoot). A little known fact about 2001 Yonggary is that Japan was the first country to to see the new Yonggary.

The film was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival, going up against the film that people may like better than Yonggary, Godzilla X Megaguirus. Ponycanyon took up distribution for the Japanese release and roadshow. And Yonggary, for a little bit, was a success. In an on-screen interview talking about the making of D-WAR: Dragon Wars on the television show SCREEN FLASH, Shin Hyung Rae said, "After making Yonggary, I got a lot of fan letters from Japan." And yes he did. Ponycanyon, who erased their records of having the film, made posters and chirashi and a DVD for the film, including the option of getting the DVD with a small SD/HG hybrid Yonggary figure, which is believed to have come from either Sonokong or Bandai. Along with that, some regular Yonggary figures were shipped from Korea to Japan where they sold fast.

But then the film had to show to the promotion-starved home country of South Korea. Slated to be shown to the public on January 20, 2001; an exclusive pre-screening was done on the 14th (6 days before). The viewers: press, especially selected fans, and 100 elementary school children. The film was shown at the Jung Dong A&C Center in Seoul, which is located by the city hall and the popular tourist attraction Duk-Su Gung. After an autograph session with writing his name on the back of hundreds of fan's Yonggary 2001 posters, the movie began at 3:30 pm. But before the film began, Shim Hyung Rae came on state to address the crowd about the making of Yonggary since 1997, which ended with a loud applause from everyone in the audience. Then the film premiered on January 20th. All major theaters were unavailable except for one: the Megabox complex in the south part of Seoul. And even that did nothing. All theaters playing Yonggary played the film for only 3-4 times a day before switching to another film. But some has said this was because of the holidays in Korea, concerning the Lunar New Year Holidays of January 22-25. The film was for the first five days in Seoul, Yonggary was number 10 at the box office. Then it dropped out for good.

Profit was unheard of, and this time it haunted ZeroNine and Younggu-Art with a vengeance. The sad part about it all is that Yonggary was finally going to be released onto VHS/DVD. But this was the beginning of the short lived HK VCD era, where Hong Kong bootleggers sold films, mostly Godzilla film from the late entries of the Showa, some of the first Heisei entries, and two Millennium films: Godzilla 2000 and Godzilla X Megaguirus. A Yonggary VCD was produced. And while it matched with the Korean OST very well, it crushed everyone, Korea and America. Ebay was the threshold of these VCDs, and most of the first reviews of Yonggary on the internet came from people who bought and watched these VCDs, which soon went extinct when ebay kicked in. But the VCDs made a killing, leading for Korea to only have a VHS of a Korean-dubbed Yonggary and in the States, a limited VHS and regular DVD release (which this VCD interference may be another reason why Sony changed the name of Yonggary to Reptilian). So Younggu-Art/ZeroNine Entertainment were cheated out of money.

In the United States, promotion was bad. The only promotion was that Damn Foster of Oriental Cinema showing some tapes of Mr. Shim at G-Fest and some have reported bootleg VHS tapes of the 2001 version. Meanwhile, Columbia and Tristar bought the rights to the film. But fearing that people may remember the failure of Yonggary, they renamed the film Reptilian and made it look like a GINO rip-off. The film was released onto DVD and VHS, where for a week was the number one rental in the states. And like always, the film got a cult fallowing, before fading away forever, setting aside for the new film D-WAR: Dragon Wars to be made, giving Shim Hyung Rae success...

Some people rate films critically. Some people rate films personally. Other people rate films for what they are. As a no name, beginning studio that caused a revolution which is still growing in Korea, Yonggary is a good film. Because it was the first Korean film to have special effects and CGI made by Koreans. ZeroNine/Younggu-Art did not have as much money as Toho Studios or Paramount, so they had to side with bad actors and a bad playwright, but what really matters here is that for what the film is, and taking into consideration the film's history, it is a classic. There is nothing else to say. Yonggary was a film. It was released. It was hated by critics and people and it became a classic and a benchmark for future Korean SFX films. The film broke ground. One of Korea's first international pictures. Korea's first CGI film. Not to mention that without this film that there would be no D-WAR and most probably no Gwoemul (The Host). And if this paper gets published, I hope that it gets published a little before July 17th. It would be my 16th birthday and it would be the 10th Anniversary of the original 1999 Yonggary. I wish Shim Hyung Rae and Yonggary a very happy 10th Anniversary.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting info. Has there been any attempts at getting both versions out onto DVD?