RESURRECTING ‘REPTILIAN’! Marty Poole on Screenwriting the South Korean Monster Movie ‘Yonggary’!

Photo © Marty Poole.

In 1999, South Korean director Shim Hyung-rae brought Yonggary, the country’s most famous monster that debuted in the film Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967), back to theaters in the hope of creating an international blockbuster that could compete with Hollywood’s output. That film was called Yonggary and, despite its Asian origins, featured an all-Western cast. The results were mixed, and, while Yonggary did receive a DVD release in the U.S. under the title Reptilian in 2001, it did not perform to the level that the international group of filmmakers had intended. American Marty Poole wrote the screenplay for this South Korean monster mash and even stepped in as an uncredited director for the reshoots that were done in California. In June 2022, Mr. Poole shared his Yonggary memories with Brett Homenick.

Brett Homenick: Please talk about your early life. Where did you grow up, and what were your hobbies?

Marty Poole: I grew up in a small town in Tennessee called Gleason, the northwest corner, a little, small, mainly rural farming community. [My] hobbies were sports. I played all sports — football, baseball, basketball, tennis — you name it, I played it. Really nice childhood, got a great family — Mom, Dad, Brother, great childhood friends I’m still close with today.

I went to [the University of] Tennessee [at] Martin, UT Martin, 20 miles from where I grew up, one of the state schools. Spent five years — fun and good times — there. I enjoyed my college life and took theater. I really got into [what] I guess you would call the creative side. Through theater, took some classes and did a few plays at the university. And then kind of from there got the bug. I wanted to live away from Tennessee for a while after college. 

I’d been to New York a couple [of] times. I had a couple of friends there that had gone to Tennessee Martin and were in the theater department. Didn’t know too many people there, but I’d been there a couple of times before and knew I wanted to move to New York City. So I finally made it about a year after college. I had gone to work, saved my money for about nine months, and moved to New York. Quite an interesting experience, going from a town of 1,500 people to eight million, 10 million. But really enjoyed it, took some acting classes there.

Really didn’t get a lot done, but I was just really learning about life and trying to survive. Worked as a bellman, worked in a sports club as a trainer, and then made friends there with a guy who was originally from Santa Monica, CA, from Los Angeles, and asked, “Hey, I’m going back to L.A. [My] parents are going to get me a place in Venice. If you want, [I’m] looking for a roommate.” So I said, “Absolutely!” 

Had never been to L.A., packed my bags, and got on a flight about a month later, and ended up in Los Angeles, in Venice, CA. Hated it the first couple [of] years — very different experience. Big city, driving, all those things that you’re not used to, coming from a smaller town. Of course, in New York, you don’t drive; you take the bus or subway. But I hung out. Ended up taking me a couple [of] years and really kind of did fall in love with [it]. I always loved the beach — water, sun — I like to be warm, so I gravitated toward it. And then, at some point in time, it kind of became home.

I was working as a bellman, not really doing any acting stuff at all, and started writing. Met a guy at the hotel we were working at, and we became roommates. He kind of wanted to be in the film business, too, so we started writing. In that time period, I did an internship at a film company. I thought every company made movies; I thought that’s just the way it works. But there are other parts of the business side, other than just making a film or a TV series, you actually find those things out during the process.

I took a job at a company called Artist View Entertainment, and I’d get to travel, going to Cannes, London, Milan, traveling six or seven times a year, going to all these cool places, meeting people. Never really wanted to do sales, but I could see it gave me an opportunity to meet people. And, with working for Artist View, I got the opportunity to write a couple [of] screenplays for other production companies. So my buddy Derrick Costa and myself started writing together and got a couple scripts produced into films. [It] wasn’t like big money or anything like that, but it was the opportunity to write and get something made.

I think I actually enjoyed the creative process more than acting. Creating stories, not that I’m great at it, became more of my passion, and I feel that I’m probably better on that side of things.

Long story short: From working at Artist View, I actually met, through a friend of mine, a Korean company called Media Film International where Yong Ho Lee and David Smitas were the principals. They were looking for someone to write a script for a film called Yonggary (1999), which originally was a monster movie from Korea back in the 1950s or ‘60s, I believe.

BH: Yeah, it was 1967, to be precise. 

MP: Right. So they were going to do kind of a remake, or they wanted to relaunch it. So they brought me in. My good buddy and roommate at the time, Scott Vandiver — I’m attending his wedding this weekend, so you can see how we’re good friends — he introduced me to them. And they brought me on to write a script. So I took the script and ended up going to Korea, and that’s how I really got involved. We were taking Western actors to make a Korean and Asian movie, and they wanted to do it in English. So we had to figure that out. We had to take Western actors; we hired our main four or five actors from L.A. and flew them over. Everyone else [were] expats that were living in Korea.

The whole Yonggary process really came to fruition for me through osmosis. Being in the business, you meet someone and then someone else, and then you find opportunities. They come up that way.

Got to work with Shim Hyung-rae, who was, I didn’t know at the time, a very famous comedian there — was on a television show, I believe. He was directing the film, but Mr. Shim’s English, of course, was not that great. So they kept me onboard to kind of be the liaison as the writer between the actors and Mr. Shim. It was a great experience. I never went to film school, so it was really kind of being just indoctrinated into the film business by getting thrown into the deep end. It was quite a great experience I’ll always look back fondly at.

And, you know, hey, we made the film, ended up reshooting parts of it in Los Angeles, which I ended up directing those. They weren’t going to bring [Mr.] Shim from Korea. We had some story points we needed to expand upon and give it a little bit more of that American action look to it. So that took place about six months after we shot the original and then finally did a deal with Columbia TriStar to sell it [on] DVD in the United States, together with David Smitas and Yong Ho Lee. That’s the story behind Yonggary in a nutshell. 

BH: At the very beginning, was the title Reptilian ever discussed, or was that much later when it came out on home video in the U.S.?

MP: Reptilian was a choice made by Columbia. Yonggary was a Korean name, and they felt that it needed to be something a little bit more commercial — probably a little more commercial title that would be easy to pronounce. You see the monster on the box, you see the title, you know what you’re going to get. You’ve probably got a creature feature monster movie here. 

BH: At the time, when they were pitching it to you, did they describe why it was necessary to make this with a Western cast and a Western screenwriter? Obviously, it’s a Korean film, basically. Did they explain to you why that was important to them?

MP: Great question. The goal at the time — at least part of the goal — was to prove that Korean companies could make an English-speaking or a worldwide film that would be accessible and would get an audience more of the world and [not just] Korea. Everybody makes their own films these days, and they were starting to make them even back then. Not as much in Korea, but Yong Ho and David wanted Hollywood movies. It could be an independent film back then and make a smaller-budget, Western-style movie look bigger [by] shooting in Korea. Of course, not everybody was making movies. Of course, now France, Germany, [and] Italy make their own homegrown product outside the United States. It’s not all just “Hollywood.” 

So that was kind of part of that — they wanted to prove that, hey, if we make something in Korea, it could be viable and salable to the international market, not just inside Korea.

BH: What were your initial impressions of director Shim Hyung-rae?

MP: I liked Mr. Shim a lot. Very charismatic — I could see, again, even though there was the language barrier, of course, he was very cordial. I didn’t realize how famous he was in Korea. We walked into an elevator one day just after I got to Korea and started working with him. There was this little girl; she couldn’t have been more than seven, eight years old. Looked up at him and said something, and everybody started laughing. Of course, myself and David Smitas were the only Americans there; we had no idea. So, when we got out of there, “What was so funny?” And the little girl apparently looked up at Mr. Shim and said, “Wow, you’re real!” She had only seen him on television. So that gave me just a bigger scope of [how] he must be pretty famous in Korea. 

But, no, very nice man. It was a different way of making films, I think, than more of the Hollywood-type way. Of course, everyone always listens to your director. Sometimes, there were just some parts where it was like, “Wait, this is not the right thing we need to be doing here,” and there would be no question on it. The hierarchy — you don’t question the hierarchy. That could be more culture than anything, maybe. 

BH: You mentioned that they said to you that this movie is based on a previous Korean film. Did you ever happen to watch that film, or was it not requested or needed?

MP: I’m not sure that I ever saw it. I don’t believe I did. Honestly, I don’t know why. I don’t know if there wasn’t copy that was from 1967 or [if it] had never been transferred over to VHS or Beta or anything like that. I don’t know, but, to my knowledge, I don’t ever remember seeing the original. Now, I had heard the concept behind it. What was it — it was “Yonggary, Creature from the Sea.” I believe that’s correct.

BH: [Yongary,Monster from the Deep.

MP: Monster from the Deep, yes. I tried to stay along those lines a little bit. Yonggary is transported down. The alien part and things like that — I’m not sure they were part of the original. I was given by Mr. Shim — I don’t know if it was a draft, but it was a part of a script in the beginning, and I tried to use the ideas at least to turn it into the film. But, in Yonggary, our monster was actually buried and came more from the earth than the sea. I don’t ever remember being [told], “This is an exact remake.” It’s just, we’re taking the concept; Yonggary was the monster.

BH: Obviously, when the movie came out, the marketing and the packaging of the film certainly looked like another film that came out in the late ‘90s. So how much influence did the TriStar Godzilla movie that was released in 1998 have on the production, if any?

MP: Absolutely zero. Funny you brought that up because, when we were shooting the film, we didn’t know about any other movies, that Columbia was doing another one that’s going to come out right around that same time.

I was helping sales. I was helping Yong Ho and David try to get a deal for the movie. We had a few offers for the film. Of course, our original goal was that it was going to be this great thing, 1,500-screen release in the U.S. Even today, it’s not that simple. I mean, the film is what it is. Looking back, it was a great experience, I think, considering we had to reshoot part of the film; I had to rewrite the entire 48 pages [for] a previously shot movie and still try to make it work with all the visual effects and everything that had already been created. That it turned out as well as it did — it’s a monster movie. It’s popcorn and cheese balls. 

Someone reviewed the film — I can’t remember who now — and their quote was, “This film is better than Columbia TriStar’s Godzilla.” That was probably the best compliment. It might have just been a fanboy of monster movies, but I thought that was about the best compliment that you could get. 

But, no, I’m sure they tried to piggyback off [TriStar’s Godzilla]. Yonggary was the Korean Godzilla. Japan had Godzilla. It had its famous monster, and Korea didn’t. So they were trying to turn Yonggary into the Korean Godzilla. 

BH: That’s an interesting point that you weren’t aware that TriStar was coming out with Godzilla. Do you remember around what month and year you were approached with the offer to write Yonggary?

MP: I believe it was after Cannes. I want to say we started in ‘98. I’m pretty sure that was it. I think it was the summer of ‘98. It was ‘98 or ‘99 because the original film in Korea was shot in ‘99, I believe. You may know more about this; you may have looked this up! (laughs) We had to reshoot in 2000, I believe, and [it was] released in 2001. 

BH: I believe shooting started at the very end of ‘98 in Korea, according to what I remember.

MP: That makes sense. As soon as I was hired on, they flew me over to Korea. I spent two or three weeks, writing, going through a storyboard that Mr. Shim and his team [had prepared] because they had already started working on VFX. I mean, he knew what he wanted. It was an interesting process.

This is actually probably interesting for you. He had a shot list that he wanted to shoot. It was a 150-page storyboard. I had to go back and go through each one of those and basically wrote the script. Man, I forgot about that. [I] really wrote most of the script against his visuals and dialogue from what was storyboarded out. That would have been in, I think, ‘98. We went over there, did that for a few weeks, and they were moving to get this thing into production. 

BH: How many drafts did you write?

MP: Not too many, not too many, because it was basically set in stone that was going to be the vision of the shot list Mr. Shim knew what he wanted [to shoot]. It was just, with the language barrier, [he thought,] “I gotta put story and dialogue to create these characters.” I would say maybe four or five drafts. And then we just shot along the way. We could improvise when needed.

Again, they did leave it to me; they gave me a lot of power because I was the English[-speaking] guy, other than [the] actors and David Smitas who was Yong Ho Lee’s partner; he’s American. But he gave me a lot of leeway to make those choices. It was putting a lot of confidence in me; I really appreciated it. He [David Smitas] passed away. He was one of my big influences, a big mentor for me. Taught me a lot about the business. I miss him a lot. So I’d say maybe five drafts.

BH: When you were writing the script, do you happen to remember any input that Mr. Shim gave you? Do you remember anything that he pointed out to you at the time?

MP: No, not really. Mr. Shim did not speak a lot of English. I was pretty much the one to talk to the actors. He knew visually — expressions, things like that. But the dialogue itself that was coming out, [it wasn’t like] he tried to say, “That sounds great!” [or,] “I don’t know what you’re saying.” So there wasn’t a lot of that. He was in charge of directing. He wanted a visual shot with the DP [director of photography]. But the dialogue, the story, all of that was left up to me. 

I’ll tell you another quick, funny story. The first night of shooting, we’re out in the middle of nowhere where they built [an] elaborate set dressing of the monster. I mean, this thing was, like, 30 feet tall! This wasn’t VFX; this was [a] real, practical monster buried — half of it — from skull to the bones, out in the middle of nowhere. 

The first night of shooting, we’re starting where Holly, played by Donna Philipson — she was the young assistant archaeologist to the mad man, Richard Livingston [who played Dr. Campbell]. She has supposedly, after a long day of the dig, been out excavating all day long, and she’s supposed to be dirty and grimy. And she’s sitting there, doing her drawing of what she thinks she found, which is basically drawing Yonggary.

Well, they walk in; Donna — Holly — and the makeup person walk into the tent. We’re in a full-size tent where it was supposed to have been shot. She walks in with this long, flowing hair — she had black, long hair — flowing hair, big lipstick, big makeup on. Of course, her clothes are all immaculate. And I’m like, “Oh, no.” I walked over to Dave Smitas and said, “Hey, do you see anything wrong here?” He was like, “What are you talking about? What? It looks great.” I said, “Dave, she’s supposed to be coming in at the end of the day, grimy, dirty. She looks like a supermodel.” Dave replies, “You’re right!”

So we had to tell Mr. Shim and [the] makeup girl, “I know your job [in] makeup is to make people look pretty, but that’s not this movie.” I thought that was quite interesting. I think that goes to the hierarchy. This is the lead actress; [she has] to look good. She is the star of the movie. But it was funny. I just thought, “Oh, no. This is the first time we’re shooting.” After that, we didn’t really have any [similar situations]. But it was a funny story that I’ll always remember. It was like she walked in out of a Vogue magazine! It was supposed to be out in the desert in this archaeological dig, and it looked like she walked out of a magazine. Tidbit of information there. Again, I know that doesn’t make it sound great, and I really don’t want to do anything disparaging toward the Korean people or Mr. Shim or anybody involved. 

BH: How long did it take to write the script? Was it two weeks or three weeks? How long did you actually write it?

MP: It moved fast. I really thought of the first draft I put together within three weeks. I write pretty quickly. They really wanted to get the film in production. So I would say, probably, the initial draft was within three weeks. Had it read, David liked it, and, within a couple of weeks, I get on a plane and off to Seoul. And that’s when I went over, and then I got the storyboards and started writing, and it was quite different. But then your action shots are set in there and everything. It was elaborately done. The people worked hard — they did the miniatures. The creative teams, I want to say that, were fantastic. Top-notch, fantastic. 

Working from the storyboard and then implementing the dialogue that I still had to work or change to fit what Mr. Shim wanted to shoot was another two-week [effort]. I was there about two weeks, and I was in the office working on that basically every day and every night. That’s why I say there wasn’t a ton of drafts. It was, “OK, [here’s] the story. Now I’ll put it to the storyboard, and let’s get ready to shoot this movie.” We went to casting after that. Probably, within six weeks, two months, we went to Korea to start filming.

BH: When you were writing the first draft, had you already seen those elaborate storyboards, or were you writing from some other input?

MP: No, I was writing from the initial concept that I was told about the original movie, and I was going by the one they’d put together — kind of a draft of a story. So I was trying to use those characters, whatever was usable. Originally, the thing opens up in a spaceship, and I remember this — whoever wrote it. It was in a spaceship, and there’s three brains talking. The brains are communicating that they are going to unleash Yonggary onto Earth. And I’m thinking, “So I need a story to revolve around three alien brains? So we have an alien force that needs something to shoot – a laser beam that fires down to Earth and raises Yonggary from his ancient sleep.” So that’s where I came up with: “You want aliens, and they’re going to unleash Yonggary onto the world and then take over the world, then let’s actually make them an alien species.” There was a lot of development that worked in the original we had to adjust around but still keep the core story of the monster intact.

But I’m not sure. I know there was a draft, and then David read the draft, and he liked the script, and then all of a sudden when I went over there, [there was an] elaborate storyboard paper where everything was drawn out. Basically, what he was going to shoot was drawn out. I don’t remember 100% if I just took as much as I could out of my script or just had to change it and wrote as I went. 

It was a lot of fun. It was a full process. That was the most interesting film I’ve ever worked on in my life. It had everything. We reshot up in Tehachapi. One of the guys involved had an bowling alley — an old bowling alley up there was being gutted. We turned it into a war room. They brought the Korean guys over to build the sets and stuff; they built that in two weeks. I had to rewrite and kind of jigsaw-puzzle the story line around some of the stuff in the original. We just couldn’t use it. Whether that’s my fault or Mr. Shim’s fault, the education, of course, of trying to shoot a film in a country and make it bigger and outside [the] language and kind of bring the Hollywood flair to it, it was an experiment. 

We found out after cutting it that there was some missing story points [about] why the monster was coming out, wreaking havoc everywhere, so I turned it to the war room. The war room footage — all of that was added in. That was shot in Tehachapi. We brought in the three generals, and then we had more U.S., more English-speaking people in it, and real American actors. We added all of that. I think we shot about 40 pages of footage over five or six days. We only had, like, a five- or six-day shoot.

I’ve heard people laugh at the film: “Eh, it’s cheese, it’s cheesy, blah, blah, blah,” but I’ve never heard anyone say, “Well, they shot part of that in the U.S. [and] part of that in Korea. Their story line doesn’t make sense.” I’ve never heard those comments, and, for that, I’m very proud and happy. That was my job to do; they put all that on me. “Marty, you gotta restructure this. You gotta take out [the] parts that don’t work, and we’ve got to add another story.” Basically, we added a B-story line, the war room. 

I remember Dr. Hughes [Harrison Young] and Holly had to get up to the war room and deliver all the information. That was not in the original. It was a lot of fun to work on it. Very interesting experience. Somebody younger, I hadn’t really done films, other than writing, before being thrown into that. It was a great experience — one of my favorite experiences in my life on that film. 

BH: Do you remember anything else from the original story? You mentioned the brains, but was there another concept that you remember from that?

MP: I don’t, Brett, to be quite honest. That’s the one that stuck out. I just know that, again, the original was Yongary, Monster from the Deep. I don’t know if we came up with the part of it being resurrected by the aliens. I don’t think that was in there; I think that was my idea. [If there’s] some reason these aliens are coming back, Yonggary can’t be running around. That was the whole idea behind them having to come back to unleash him onto the world. Whether that was there, or that was my input, I’m not going to take credit for something I didn’t do, but I know that we had to get to the point, and I didn’t see the original one to know if that’s what happened, to be quite honest. 

The focal point [was] Yonggary comes back to [destroy] the world so the aliens can take over. That was my focal point, and then how do I make all these discoveries, turn a story into that that’s going to work for 90 minutes [that] people are going to care about. And that was with the dig, the bad archaeologist — he’s uncovering Yonggary because he wants to be rich and famous. And Holly, of course, wants to do it for humanity. It’s like any film — you’ve got your protagonist, your antagonist. You’ve got to create conflict — what’s the conflict, who’s against who, what’s the ultimate goal. After Doc gets squished by Yonggary, then it’s the good Dr. Hughes, the mysterious guy, and Holly who have to put the puzzle together and figure out who’s doing this.

And Yonggary not really totally being the bad guy — at the end of the day, you still want your hero. Your monster still has to be your hero, or at least in that film, I think it was. It’s like Godzilla. Even though Godzilla technically destroys a lot of stuff, you want some sympathy for the monster. You want to root for the monster, and that was always the goal.

BH: When you were writing the script, what were your accommodations like in Korea?

MP: Oh, fantastic. They treated me extremely well. Nice hotel, great food. I had some kimchi last night. It’s still my favorite food of all time, Korean food. Part of that’s from being in Korea and then in Koreatown in Los Angeles, working there at the office. But they treated me extremely well.

We traveled around; we shot in several different places over the course of the shoot, and everything was always top-notch. It was top-notch. 

BH: The script had quite a few fun lines, such as, “Compared to this guy, Godzilla’s a pussy.” I also enjoyed the short monologue that actor Brad Sergi gives, describing the bizarre situation he’s in, especially the line, “more dead bodies than a Tarantino flick.” So could you talk about writing some of those funnier lines, and was there a reaction from Mr. Shim about putting that stuff in?

MP: Well, I don’t think Mr. Shim understood what anybody was saying. I don’t think his English was that proficient to know, other than [the name] Tarantino. Of course, if you say Tarantino, everybody knows his name, and they know Godzilla. 

But that’s funny. That makes me feel good. Those are my lines. You gotta have a little tongue-in-cheek [humor]. But, no, I don’t think Mr. Shim and Yong Ho Lee, the producer — he was more on the business side: “You guys figure that [out].” Some people are [on] the business side in the film business. It’s like, “Go make the movie, bring something we can sell. That’s why I’m putting on your show, to bring us something we can sell — a commercial film that the world can see.” That was really the goal. Achieved to what extent, I’m not sure, but that was the goal behind it.

David Smitas gave me a lot of leeway on it. Again, David’s a lawyer, pretty smart man, been in the film business a long time. He would have questioned, I think, and said: “Marty, this is crap.” He might have said that a couple [of] times: “I don’t like this line.” That was never discussed; no one ever said anything [like], “Don’t use those lines,” at all. I really like those, too, so thank you. I really like Godzilla, but…

BH: (laughs) I think you’ve probably answered this already indirectly, but that line about Godzilla being a pussy, that’s not a shot at the TriStar Godzilla that was coming out, right? I think most people assume that that was a reaction to the TriStar version.

MP: No, not at that time. Not at all. I’d heard the reference that Japan has Godzilla; they’ve got their famous monster. And Yonggary, I believe, even in the original back in the ‘60s, there was always an embargo between those countries, so they couldn’t even get Godzilla. I don’t think they could even see the film, so they went to create their own monster equivalent to Godzilla, and that was Yonggary. It wasn’t even a slight toward Japan or anything like that. It was just, we’re bigger, badder, meaner than you are. (laughs) And to be one of the monsters that could take down Godzilla. That’s what it was always just kind of meant to be — a tongue-in-cheek, fun line. 

BH: For the monster scenes, did you draw any inspiration from other sci-fi films that you had seen, or was that all handled by Mr. Shim and his special effects team?

MP: That was all handled by Mr. Shim. Then again, if there was anything that he put in that they created from that first script that I sent, honestly, I don’t remember, Brett. I know the script was read because David read it, and that was the script that they liked. So I assume that they took some of that and put it into the storyboard[s], but, as far as the dialogue and things like that, or how it all connected together, I [don’t know]. 

All the VFX, all the blowing up, the explosions, all of that, other than when we did the reshoots in Tehachapi — we had to send that footage back, and the VFX, the monster, had to be put into those shots, of course, to make them work. So there was some additional CGI that was created. But we tried to keep that minimal and use the footage that had already been [shot]. 

Like the stuff where huge fireballs were being blasted through the city — those are miniatures. They blew the hell out of those miniatures. A lot of those were going through the city, and the fireballs hitting the structures. Those are miniatures that were built, and they blew those suckers up. Technology has changed in the last 20 years, but that’s kind of the way you had to do it. It was very impressive.

BH: I understand that you were at the Cannes International Film Festival in ‘98. What was the connection with Yonggary, specifically, at the Cannes Film Festival? Did you do any work promoting it at the time?

MP: It was the next Cannes. I believe it’s probably the one in ‘99 [after] we’d shot the film. We were at the Carlton Hotel, which is probably the most famous one there. David and Yong Ho [from] the company Media Film had bought all kinds of advertising. We had Yonggary banners on the outside on the top level of the Carlton Hotel. Big, huge picture of Yonggary and then the name. They spent a lot of money. There was nothing left on the table. So it was a huge promotion. They did a huge deal for Japan at that Cannes. For that film at that point in time, [it was] a big deal for a lot of money, to sell the rights. 

The hype was there. Advertising was spent in the magazines. [At the] Carlton, we had a big room there when your buyers come in. The sales market is a little bit different in Cannes and AFM. I’m also a sales agent myself — Fairway Film Alliance is my company. I still do that, as well; I still acquire and license films. Some of it’s hype, some of it’s promotion, but, at the end of the day, it really comes down to your movie, after how much you spend. A $100 million film can lose 95 million easy, and a $500,000 movie can make 100 million. You never know. The odds, of course, aren’t so good that every independent’s going to make that kind of money, but that’s the beauty of making movies. [There’s an] equal opportunity, if you make a great film, hopefully it will get seen. 

The film was highly promoted. We had a big launch in Milan. That was in early October — MIFED was an international sales market. They had toys, puzzles, shirts — there was no expense really saved to get the film out there to the buyers and say, “Hey, the films here we make are a bigger-looking international movie.” 

BH: Were you involved in the casting of American actors at all?

MP: I was, absolutely. Absolutely, across the board on that. We had casting set up in our office in Koreatown in Los Angeles, and we cast everybody — Donna Philipson to Richard Livingston, and [Harrison Young], who passed away just a few years after that. [He] played Dr. Hughes. He was [in] Saving Private Ryan (1998); he was the older Matt Damon character [Private Ryan]. He was just a great, fun, delightful man.

We cast everybody and did it in a short period of time. I think we probably called people back one time and figured it out. Then we took five or six people. I guess Brad [Sergi] came from Los Angeles; I thought he might have been living in Korea, but I guess we took him from here. Wiley Pickett, Dan Cashman, we took all those guys over there with us — and [Eric] Briant Wells. My goodness, we took several actors because there’s really not a big pool of [American] actors, of course, in Korea. We knew we had to bring everybody that had a major part from the United States. 

BH: Speaking of the actors, do you have any memories of working with them — any stories about any of the cast that you’d like to share?

MP: We were all kind of in it together. The star was the monster, so our casting was looking for the best actors that fit the role. With Harrison, [we were] able to get him onboard after Private Ryan. Donna did a great job, I thought — a young actress that hadn’t done a lot. She’s English, and her American accent was just spot-on. Brad and Richard Livingston were very professional actors, so I think we did a really good job in that. I don’t think that we really missed the boat on that. We all had a lot of fun.

We had a monsoon come through and destroy the set at one point in time, and, for a week, we were down. We were just all at the hotel and drinking beer and hanging out and stuff like that. I think the cool part was, we shot in several different spots. We got to go to Busan, we went up near the DMZ [the Korean Demilitarized Zone where South Korea borders North Korea] — five miles from the DMZ. I think everybody just looked at it as an adventure. We were all just kind of, “Hey, let’s make a film, do the best we can, and have some fun doing it.”

But there were a lot of soju and beer nights. If we had a day off, we got to go visit stuff; they gave us kind of a tour of things. Again, I was extremely well treated; the Korean hospitality was phenomenal. 

BH: Let’s talk about filming the movie in South Korea. What are some of your standout memories from the shoot?

MP: Being in the middle of nowhere, driving for three or four hours, to find this half-monster sitting in the middle of a dirt field and looking like a T-rex had been just unearthed was pretty amazing. We were on a lot of locations. We had, like, one sound stage built for the cave scene in the entire film, as I remember. Most everything else, we were out on location. There was a lot of night scenes, of course. 

Nothing particularly sticks out, but it was a lot of fun. It was all fast and furious. When we were done at a location, we were usually traveling. We all rode in a van. We might be driving four or five hours, going to the next location. You get set up; you need to shoot that next day or the following day, get into a hotel, get some rest, and we’re going again, and there’s no days off in between. Just fond memories of hanging out. 

Just seeing Seoul itself — when I first got to Seoul, I thought L.A. was big; Seoul made it look [like] a small town, in my opinion. That place was huge. The traffic — stop and turn around in the middle of the road. Heck, there’s no [traffic] law! I’m like, “Wow, this makes L.A. look pretty dull.”

BH: What were the shooting hours like? From when to when during the day would shooting happen?

MP: I just know, as far as SAG rules and things like that, I don’t know what we were under or not. You may know you’re supposed to have rules for shooting and overtime. I don’t ever remember hearing, “Marty, you guys need to wrap.” In L.A., it’s different, of course. It may have happened. But [the] workers, those guys worked hard. Going back to the hierarchy of things, I don’t know what the rules and regulations [were] in Korea at that time. (laughs) You know, we made our days. Shot the film on time.

BH: Generally speaking, how would you describe Mr. Shim as a director?

MP: I think Mr. Shim was very creative. I don’t think he had any directing experience. [Being a] first-time director, if that’s the case, [is] tough enough on anyone. With him being a famous personality there, I think that probably brought a lot of cachet into the equation. I think it’d be very hard doing the opposite. I could understand him being hesitant, with English not even being his second language. Opposite circumstance for an American director. Go to Korea, you speak English, direct Korean actors that are going to be speaking Korean. But you can look at them, and you like what they’re doing. The language factor isn’t the important part of it.

So I think that made it, I’m sure, a little bit more difficult for him, so I’m not going to criticize Mr. Shim as a director. I think it was a big project, a big undertaking, on probably a smaller amount of money than was needed. But that’s why you make it work with best choices possible. Again, we’re talking [about 20] years ago when the VFX was different, the CGI was done a lot differently and a lot more intensive, I think, than it takes today. So I think Mr. Shim did a great job directing, considering all the elements that we had to work with and some of the restrictions that we had, as well.

BH: Could you tell us anything about working with the cast of American actors in Korea?

MP: Everyone was great. We were all thrown into a foreign country where none of us spoke Korean. We were all housed in basically the same place, same hotel. We kind of became a pretty close little family. Really, there weren’t any issues, any fights, any big personality conflicts — anything like that. Everyone got along. I think everyone was happy to be working. Again, there’s not a ton of L.A. actors that get to get flown business-class to Korea to shoot a movie. When you get on a film set, you become family.

For that six weeks or three weeks or whatever amount of time, everybody gets tight-knit, and you’re all best friends for a little while. And that’s cool; I love that. Sometimes, you see people again, and sometimes you never see them [again] in your life; you never cross paths. So it was kind of like that. We were our own little family. We all hung out together and ate together and laughed together. It was a fantastic experience, and everyone worked hard, did the best job they could.

BH: What did you find most challenging there?

MP: The communication. If I felt like something maybe — how do I put that? — not that it wasn’t done right, but just there was a communication [gap], “Well, maybe this shot should be like this,” or, “I don’t think he got that.” But, then again, that wasn’t my responsibility. Mine was to work liaison between the actors, and, if something wasn’t done right, to let them know. The language barrier probably, looking back, was maybe a little bit more of an obstacle than we thought it might be at the time. But we got through it. 

BH: In terms of being a liaison, do you remember any specific episodes about that? Do you remember any situations where you had to be a liaison between Mr. Shim and the actors?

MP: Well, I gave you that story earlier. It was the first night of shooting where our star walked in looking like a star walking out of a magazine, and she’s supposed to have been out digging and looking for this dinosaur all day long and all grubby and dirty and dirt on her face, and she looks like a movie star. That’s the primary [story] that I can think of. Probably a few others along the way, but that was the big one that stuck out. 

Organizing around the shoot and trying to make sure that the footage that we needed was shot and that the words that were coming out weren’t [mistakes]. Of course, if anybody flubbed a line or anything like that, they were all pros; they all knew that. It wasn’t a big improvised film; everybody stuck to the script, pretty much. Unless I caught something like that, but I don’t remember any instances. Everybody was very professional. It wasn’t like we had a lot of problems or [that] we had to change dialogue. The locations never match exactly where you want them, particularly what you see when you’re writing in your head. So little things like that that you adjust to when filming, but nothing major. The makeup story, I think, is the most fun. 

BH: Overall, how long were you in South Korea during that time?

MP: Around about six weeks. I think we were on the shoot probably four, three to four, and, as I said, we got monsooned. It rained that set out — I mean, literally, I think. I may be wrong, but, on that first day or two of shooting, a monsoon came through, and we were down, I want to say, at least three or four days — maybe longer. I think that may have happened another time where we had some weather issues where we just couldn’t physically shoot because it was raining so much. [It was] during monsoon season, apparently. 

BH: And that was the scene where the [Yonggary] skeleton was in the ground. Is that the location?

MP: We were out in the middle of nowhere. We were in some small town miles away [that] we had to drive to. As I remember, it wasn’t that big of a place, maybe a few local restaurants in the entire, small village. [There was] one place where we could all go eat and drink. There wasn’t a lot to do but just kind of hang out and wait for the rain [to stop]. 

BH: In my research, I came across the name of someone named Isaac. Who exactly was Isaac, and what was his role during production, if you remember?

MP: He was an American. Younger guy — I think Isaac might have been 20 years old. I’m paraphrasing here because I actually haven’t thought about this in years, [but] he was working either with Mr. Shim’s company or had been brought on because his Korean was fantastic, and I think he just picked it up from living there. So he lived in Seoul, [spoke] perfect English because he was American, but his Korean [was fantastic].

I think he was probably originally brought on more as a translator because I used him a ton. He was basically my translator on set. Good kid, nice guy. We gave him a small role in it as kind of an extra. He was around us at all times. But, thinking back on it now, I would describe him as — I think originally brought on as really a liaison, a translator, between Mr. Shim and myself and anybody else who needed to go between English and Korean. 

BH: Do you remember what role he played in the film?

MP: He was one of the military guys, I believe. Yeah, he was one of the soldiers. I was actually in the movie, as well. I was the pussy that wouldn’t jump out of the copter. That was me.

BH: I’ve heard some stories about the nearby Cafe Tomato that the cast and crew frequented. Could you share any tales of your own?

MP: Where was that at — Seoul? I don’t remember. We were at several locations, different spots. As I remember, a couple of the towns and places we were at didn’t have a lot of entertainment or places to go. I’m assuming it’s referring to one of those, but, honestly, I don’t have any recollection of Cafe Tomato. That name doesn’t ring a bell.

All we had to do on the side was eat and drink. [When] we weren’t shooting, we weren’t running around. We were very much taken care of because we were shooting the film. So we were pretty much [relegated] to where they put us in hotels or whatever, and we just went out. So that was probably one of the places that we went drinking either after filming that night or on our days off. I remember a lot of Hite beer, OB [Lager], a lot of soju, and food. I don’t remember that place, so I really can’t comment.

We were taken out [to] a lot of the karaoke bars. You go, and you eat, and you drink and sing, and the Asian flavor is, they would bring girls to come in and sit with us and things like that. I’ve been through that experience. I don’t know if that was at the Tomato or not. [If] anybody went any extra mile after that, I personally don’t know of that. 

BH: Before we move on to the 2001 re-edit, speaking about the South Korean shoot, is there anything else that you’d like to share? Did you have any other roles that you played behind the scenes of the film? Is there anything else to share about the South Korean side of the production?

MP: No. I wrote the script, brought over basically to liaison, made sure the dialogue and everything was there. I was on set every day with Mr. Shim. Again, other than doing the little, small cameo. Because they needed someone to be a soldier, I said OK. I’m a logical choice; I’m there.

So the army base barber chopped my hair to fit the role. Free hair cut, as we were on an actual military base. We were up in those giant Chinooks [helicopters] and everything; it was kind of surreal. We shot in that Chinook. Pilot took us up in the air; that’s pretty cool. To get a haircut from a Korean military guy, the barber, was pretty interesting. But little things like that — it was all fun. That’s really all I have. We were on a Korean military base, absolutely.

BH: Let’s talk about the reshoots. If you’d like to talk about the genesis of that and your role in terms of rewriting or directing those scenes, we can talk about all that right now.

MP: I’ll make it brief. Again, I think I went over a lot of it. We shot the film; we came back and edited it. Steve Swersky was the editor — a friend of David’s, good guy, still editing to this day. We put it together, did the best we [could]. I think we actually had a couple of showings for it, but I believe one was at Cannes, and it didn’t go that well. Audiences were laughing but not all in the right spots, if you know what I mean. I think we thought we had a better film than we had, and the buyers weren’t responding as well as we’d hoped — at least with the numbers that you want when you spend more money on a movie. So we went back and decided — I think Dave and maybe Yong Ho and myself — said, “Look, this film’s not going to perform the way we want it to. What can we do?” 

I don’t remember if I came up with the idea, if David came up with the idea, if Yong Ho came up with the idea, to [say,] “Let’s do something and make this feel bigger, better, more actiony.” That’s where the idea of the war room came into play in Tehachapi because one of our Korean friends had a place there that he was gutting, anyway, so it could be turned into the war room. That’s where that idea kind of came from. Let’s just turn this into the war room; we’ll put that in central base. Everything takes place out of that, as far as the B-story line of Yonggary coming to destroy the world. So our top military guys have got to find a way to [stop it].

So that was a logical place where we could shoot fast, and we knew we could only spend so much money and only had so many days to shoot. So most of the reshoots — I would say 80%, as I recall — took place in that one location. And then we [had to] shoot some exteriors that were probably 20% of what we shot. I’d have to go back and look at the movie to actually verify that, but I know most everything was shot in the war room. 

But that was what I did. Went in, watched the film over and over, figured out what we had to take out — the acting that wasn’t very good, bad lighting, parts of the story that weren’t playing well. I mean, Brad Sergi originally had a much bigger part of the story, and we basically had to cut him out. It wasn’t [about] Brad’s acting or anything like that; it’s just that [his] story line didn’t propel the story forward. His plot line didn’t really propel it forward.

So there were some choices made. We knew we had to keep the CGI that was shot — the big fireballs, most of that had been shot. I mean, 95% of that was done. That’s your money shot; there’s your monster stuff, destroying the city. So we had to keep those certain things, and I re-puzzled that thing in my head, taking the final shooting script and going in and just cutting things out. We add this story line in — what [do we have] to remove to make that work? It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I’m proud of myself for doing it, but you got no choice, looking back.

You already shot 95 minutes, and you’re going to cut 45 of those out, and still make a movie work. It’s not the smartest way to go and make a movie, but that was the choice we had. I think, overall, we did a pretty decent job of it. You can bash the film, but no one’s ever said, “Well, that plot line doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.” And that was just being creative, story-wise, and say[ing], “If I take this out, I’ll leave this in. New character — how does that new character fit into the plot? What is their motivation, what is their conflict?” — stuff like that across the board. How does it work into the story line that we’ve established, and we know that we cannot take [it] out without screwing up the whole body of work.

BH: Do you remember anything about Brad’s story line that got deleted?

MP:  He originally was involved all the way through the film. When we developed the war-room concept, the focus became to use the military aspect and characters more in finding and taking down Yonggary.

BH: How long did it take to do the rewrites, and how long did it take you to direct those scenes?

MP: I’d say I probably rewrote it over a month, off and on, while they were building the war room and everything. They brought in people from Korea. The same guys, I assume, that worked on the models and everything came in and created that entire war room. Phenomenal job — I believe they did that in about two weeks — two or three weeks at the most. So, in that time, we were prepping everything. 

But I think we had only had five days of shooting. It might have been six. But it was a very short shooting period. Of course, everything costs money. I think we shot about 40 or 42 pages that I remember in five days — maybe six, but I think it was just five. 

BH: How much of the movie did you direct?

MP: Again, without going through and watching it — it’s been years; it’s been a long time. I’d say, if we shot 40 pages out 90 — that’s 40 minutes out of 90 — I’d say at least 35%, maybe 40%, of that film is the new footage. Anywhere from 30 to 40%. 

BH: So you’re basically an uncredited co-director of the film.

MP: And I would never ask for that; I didn’t care. That’s not my thing. The films I work on, I take some writing credits sometimes. Every film that I’ve ever been a part of producing, I’m going to write something on it. I’m going to go in there because I’ve gotta get it to where I need it to be as a producer, as well. There’s a lot of things — second-unit directing, I’ve done that on three or four films that I haven’t even taken credit for. You do what you have to do to make the film. I’m at the point in my career where I’d rather make money over having credit, but credits are nice. 

You’re right. No, I never took a directing or even a second-unit directing [credit], and I could have for Yonggary.  

BH: Do you remember around what time of year this was?

MP: It was December of 2000, I believe. It took us about a year later to shoot that because we went ahead and went through the process of finishing the film and screening it, and then deciding that we need to do something about [this]. If we’re going to give this a shot to do some of these bigger deals that Yong Ho and David wanted to do and save [some of the] budget, then it was the only choice that we could really make. That’s when we took it back to Columbia again, and they said, “OK, we’ll give you a deal.” Now, it wasn’t, of course, the big, millions-and-millions-of-dollars deal, but, at that point in time, you want to go out with a studio. Back then, you needed a studio release. [It] helped you with foreign and all your other sales. It helps drive the numbers on your international sales. 

BH: What could you tell us about any sequel talks? Were there any serious sequel talks or any ideas thrown around about that?

MP: I never heard anything. I think we were happy to get the film out there, Brett. It’s a big endeavor. I think Mr. Shim went on in the next year or two to do D-War (2007). I think he and Yong Ho kind of parted ways after Yonggary. I don’t ever remember anything being said about, “Let’s do a number two,” or, “Let’s do another monster movie.” 

BH: Overall, what did you think of the film? How would you rate the finished product?

MP: Oh, wow, tough question. Objectively, I know what the film is; I understand. I was there; I worked on it. I saw the upsides, the downsides. I saw our issues; I saw the pros and the cons of what we were trying to do, and that was to make a bigger-looking film probably without the budget and maybe some of the stars and things that we would need. But, again, that’s part of filmmaking; that’s what everybody does. You don’t ever want to spend too much money; you want to make the best film possible, you don’t go into a film thinking it’s going to flop. I understand all those things.

Objectively, the film is what it is. We made a monster movie. I mean, that’s the realm of sci-fi monster movies. Did we deliver, visually and conceptually and story-wise, a great movie? No. Critically, I’d have to say we probably made a C+/B- movie. And it’s supposed to be a B-monster movie. (laughs). So maybe it worked!

Now, for my own personal part of being there, behind the scenes, going through it and living it, and what we pulled off with those obstacles, I’m very proud of that. I think, for the entire team and everybody, I’d like to give us, just the hard work, the effort, pulling it together, and making it happen to the state that it even got to be into, I’m giving myself a B+/A- on that part. It wasn’t for lack of work and effort and some vision to, “Let’s make this the best film possible,” and I think we turned the film into basically what it could be. And then the rest of it lives in history. 

BH: Before we finish, is there anything else you’d like to say about Yonggary or the experience of making the film?

MP: I’ll just reiterate what I said earlier: To this date, 20 years later, Yonggary was a great experience for me. It was like going to film school and getting a hands-on education in a matter of months. I’ll always be grateful to Mr. Shim, Yong Ho Lee, and my friend David Smitas for giving me the opportunity. It was a big thing for me. They put a lot of faith in me, and I will always respect and appreciate that. That film was the best filmmaking experience of my life, no doubt. It was a great time, enjoyed it. [If I could] live it over, I’d do it again.


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