‘One Last Monster’ Roots Giant Monsters In Korean History

One of the most striking visuals of Gene Kim’s animated short One last monster currently touring festivals, is the giant turtle tanks. The kingdom of Adin is led to war by huge stocky chelonians with cannons mounted on their backs. They are a formidable tusk, extremely cute and rooted in one of the favorite tales of Korean history.

Kim told me that the turtles were partly inspired by Korean ships called turtle ships who repelled Japanese invaders during the Imjin War between 1592 and 1598. Ships remain a great source of national pride, as they were among the first armored ships in the world. But turtle tanks also sprang up when Kim saw someone walking three turtles through Central Park in New York City. “I saw them and thought, what if we increase these guys to the size of kaiju?” He said, referring to the giant monsters of Japanese cinema.

One of the most striking visuals of Gene Kim’s animated short One last monster currently touring festivals, is the giant turtle tanks. Adin’s kingdom is led to war by huge, stocky chelonians with cannons mounted on their backs. They are a formidable tusk, extremely cute and rooted in one of the favorite tales of Korean history.

Kim told me that the turtles were partly inspired by Korean ships called turtle ships who repelled Japanese invaders during the Imjin War between 1592 and 1598. Ships remain a great source of national pride, as they were among the first armored ships in the world. But turtle tanks also sprang up when Kim saw someone walking three turtles through Central Park in New York City. “I saw them and thought, what if we increase these guys to the size of kaiju?” He said, referring to the giant monsters of Japanese cinema.

The turtle reservoirs are therefore large enough to have roots in Korea, Japan and the United States which is a good description of One last monster himself. The short film blends Korean history and Korean American immigrant experiences with Asian and Western animation traditions. The result is a story that insists that you show your love for your land the most when you invite other people, not when you exclude them.

Kim was born in South Korea and moved to the United States at the age of 2. Her father is a certified accountant and her mother is a jewelry designer; he attributes his artistic inclinations to him. Kim worked as an intern at Pixar during his studies and at Disney after graduation, but he was fascinated by the idea of ​​creating his own project rooted in Korean culture. Thanks to a loan from his parents, he began to write what has become One last monster in 2016, just as Donald Trump’s xenophobic and anti-immigrant US presidential campaign intensified. The short has been screened at festivals for the past two years and won the top 2020 award for Best Animated Short from the Flickers’ Vortex Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Film Festival.

The film is about the mythical kingdom of Adin, ruled by Empress Eura (voiced by Martha Harms). Adin borrows many elements from Korean culture; Eura is often shown munching on Korean fried chicken. “She knows her food!” Kim said. Adin also shares the story of the invasion of Korea, although the conquerors are kaiju influenced by Japanese films and monsters from outer space rather than Japanese or Chinese forces from land or overseas. .

In order to repel the invaders, Eura builds a massive fortress. In addition, her martyred husband, Emperor Taejo, leaves her with a mysterious flame of great destructive power. When she begins to use it, however, a giant toothy blue kaiju named Didas appears. He claims the flame is too dangerous and offers to magically repair the damage done in previous invasions if Eura lets him destroy it.

Didas is voiced with a heartwarming rumbling bass from Mike Meth. Even so, however, prejudice and fear make it difficult for Eura and her people to trust the giant. “Your husband wanted to make Adin a paradise, not a den of monsters!” an angry adviser told him.

The destructive flame and the imagery of what it did to the world of Didas are in the lore of apocalyptic Japanese anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, which reflect Japan’s experiences as the only nation targeted by nuclear weapons. Kim, however, said he was also thinking of North Korean isolationism and atomic threats. “Adin’s rhetoric is basically, ‘Let’s destroy everyone, or make sure we can destroy everyone, so that we can be safe,’” he told me.

The film makes a nod to the paranoid xenophobia of North Korea, but it is also a nod to the paranoid xenophobia that can also prevail in the United States. Particularly with the current increase in anti-Asian violence in the United States, it is easy to read One last monster as a parable about conditions in North America now, rather than the stalemate on the Korean Peninsula.

Didas does the work of rebuilding Adin. But no matter how much infrastructure he builds or how much food he creates for the sleeping turtle tank, he’s still considered an outsider. “Your majesty, do I have to prove myself more? He asks with exasperation. The answer, unfortunately, is yes; immigrants never stop proving themselves. Even when (or especially when) it is possible that these immigrants are the object of a certain love interest.

One last monster doesn’t really expand on his allusions to Eura and Didas becoming more than friends. The short is only 23 minutes long and in places it feels rushed and underdeveloped. We never really learn what the flame is or why Eura is the only person who can control it. The motivations of her late husband and her future marital obligations are also opaque. It’s difficult to gauge his decisions, as we don’t have a clear idea of ​​the extent of the current threat Adin actually faces or who wants to invade him. Ancient Korea was indeed under the constant threat of military takeover; the United States today, not so much. Adin is sort of both at the same time. This creates some interesting parallels but also some inconsistency.

It is true that all is not in One last monster fit together. But, as with turtle aquariums, awkwardness has its own charm. It’s a mishmash of anime traditions, Western animation, and Korean history and ideas. For designers, this presented many challenges – finding visual references to design clothing, architecture and other aspects of the world was surprisingly difficult, Kim said. But animation was also an opportunity to create something that looks and feels different from any of its sources.

In an inversion of The beauty and the Beast, the story ends with Eura unexpectedly transforming into a large blue kaiju herself. Didas changed Adin, and / or vice versa. the One last monster of the title is not necessarily the last invader but the thing that grows when different monsters meet. Kim, like Eura, is a constructive kaiju. Who knows what worlds you can create by knocking down a few walls?