The film was made to rival the success of Godzilla and featured the same style and techniques of special effects filmmaking used in Godzilla films and other Kaiju films utilizing suitmation and miniature sets. The Japanese production company Toei helped co-produce the film with Keukdong Entertainment. The film was released in South Korea on September 28, 1967 and released direct to television in the United States by American International Television in 1969 as Yongary, Monster from the Deep. The film spawned a reimagining in 1999 titled Yonggary, also produced in South Korea.
In South Korea, a family gathers for the wedding of an astronaut, however, the astronaut is called back to duty to monitor a nuclear test in the Middle East. The test triggers an earthquake that shifts the epicenter to the heart of Korea. The authorities initially withhold this information from the public until they’re sure the quake strikes but once the earthquake reaches the Hwanghae province, the authorities impose martial law for the area.
During the quake, a photographer takes pictures of the ground splitting, which reveals a giant creature moving inside. The photographer manages to get away but crashes his car due to the quake. The photographer manages to reach the authorities and deliver the photographs of the creature before succumbing to his injuries. The authorities name the creature “Yongary”, after an old Korean fable about a monster connected with earthquakes.
While South Korea is being evacuated, the military is dispatched to the Inwang area to attack Yongary but with no success. Illo, a young scientist, decides to go to Seoul to find a weakness in Yongary. His girlfriend, Soona, opposes this but he goes anyway.
The military suggests using guided missiles against Yongary but the authorities fear the missiles might do more damage than the monster and may destroy the landmarks of old Korea, however, the authorities decide that Korea’s future is more important and agree to use the guided missiles. Icho manages to escape through the city’s sewers and reaches an oil refinery where he finds Yongary drinking oil and gasoline. Icho turns off the main valve which causes Yongary to go berserk and destroy a tank that triggers a chemical reaction that makes Yongary itch and scratch.
Yongary is then struck with Illo’s ammonia and missiles, which is enough to put him temporarily to sleep, however, Illo believes the ammonia needs more work. Icho takes a light device from Illo’s lab and shines it on an immobile Yongary, which triggers him to wake up. To Icho’s amusement, Yongary then begins dancing but then returns to his rampage.
Illo loads the finalized ammonia onto a helicopter and dumps it on Yongary in the Han River, where Yongary collapses and dies. The following morning, Illo is commended for his role in defeating Yongary, however, he cites Icho as the real hero for providing him with the information of Yongary’s eating habits. In the end, Icho expresses that Yongary was not evil by nature but rather, simply looking for food.
- Oh Young-il as Ko Il-woo (Illoo Nami in the English dub)
- Nam Jeong-im as Yoo Soon-a
- Kang Moon as Kim Yu-ri (On-na in the English dub)
- Lee Soon-jae as Yoo Kwang-nam
- Lee Kwang-ho as Yoo Young (Icho in the English dub)
- Kim Shin-jae as Kim Yu-ir's Mother
- Twist Kim as Soldier
- Cho Kyoung-min as Yonggary
- Ted Rusoff as Illoo Nami (Voice, English dub)
Keukdong Entertainment Company employed staff from Equis Productions and Daiei Film's special effects staff to helm the film's special effects. Masao Yagi, who built the Godzilla and Gamera suits for Toho and Daiei, supervised the construction of the Yongary suit. Director Kim Ki-duk found that the suit lacked terror and was disappointed with the final results but proceeded to film with the suit since there was no time or money to produce a new suit. Lee Byoung-woo, the film's associate producer, acted as an intermediate between the South Korean filmmakers and the Japanese staff and helped train the South Korean staff in the special effects techniques used by the Japanese crew.
Principal photography began on April 3rd, 1967 while the special effects photography commenced on April 6th with Cho Kyoung-min performing in the Yongary suit, who was paid ₩100,000 ($400 in USD). The special effects took three months to shoot and were filmed in two studios in Seoul. The miniatures and models cost ₩5 million ($20,000 in USD), the 12 constructed sets cost ₩7 million ($27,000 in USD), and the Yongary suit cost ₩1.2 million ($5,000 in USD).
- Director as Ki-duk Kim
- Screenwriter as Seo Yoon-seong
- Producer as Cha Tae-jin
- Music as Jeon Jeong-keun
- Directors of Photography as Byeon In-jib, Lee Seong-chun
- Special Effects as Kenichi Nakagawa, Masao Yagi (Yonggary suit maker), Akira Suzuki (mechanized props)
For its release in North America, Keukdong Entertainment Company sold the film to American International Pictures and released it under the new title Yongary, Monster from the Deep through their television division in 1969. AIP attached Salvatore Billitteri to supervise the English version's post-production and had the film dubbed by Titra Studios. Infamously, when the film was being sold overseas, the producers (due to a lack of experience) shipped all the original materials, including negatives.
As a result, the original South Korean version of the film has been deemed lost and the AIP English version is the only version of the film that survives. The film was shown regularly during the '70s on syndicated television. U.S. ownership of the film kept changing: AIP was picked up by Filmways, Inc. in 1979, which merged with Orion Pictures, which was later acquired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1997.
The film opened in Seoul on September 28, 1967 and sold 110,000 to 150,000 tickets during its theatrical run, which was a success for the film at the time due to a low number of cinemas in the country (550 screens total) and the population at the time being 25 million. For its German release, the film was re-titled as Godzilla's Todespranke (Godzilla's Hand of Death), despite not being related to Godzilla.
Orion Pictures released the film on VHS in November 1989. Alpha Video released a cropped, full-screen version of the film on DVD in March 2004. MGM released a widescreen remastered version of the film on DVD as part of their Midnite Movies series in September 2007, paired as a double feature with Konga. Kino Lorber released the film on Blu-ray in January 2016 which featured an audio commentary by Steve Ryfle (author of Japan's Favorite Monster: The Unofficial Biography of Godzilla) and Korean critic/scholar Kim Song-ho.
Due to the original prints having been lost, the film became unavailable on television and home media in its native country for 44 years until it was broadcast on television in Korea for the first time on June 19, 2011; however, it was the English dubbed version of the film that was broadcast with Korean subtitles taken from the film's original Korean script.
Film scholar and critic Kim So-Young published an essay in 2000 where he noted how the evacuation and destruction scenes in the original Godzilla film reminded Japanese audiences of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the evacuation and destruction scenes in Yongary similarly reminded Korean audiences of the Korean War. Young also addressed the film's theme of masculinity, stating that the astronaut and the young scientist are "tested to prove their masculinity throughout the story" and alludes to the country's crisis of masculinity at that time. Young addressed that Icho is the real hero of the film, believing Icho to be a mirror image of Yongary and a symbol of Korea's future.