As in the Western world, Korea has a variety of mythical monsters. Among them is Bulgasari, an iron-eating monster, which will be the main topic of this paper. The monster’s name “Bulgasari” has a paradoxical meaning in Korean, which is “cannot be killed but can be killed by fire.” The meaning of the name represents the wide gamut of ambivalent identity ranging from physical to metaphorical aspects of the monster. It also provides a uniquely Korean reception and interpretation of being monstrous as distinctive from the archetypal imagery and general understanding of monstrosity as “enduring evil,” as seen in most myths and tradition. For instance, Bulgasari’s destructive power is frequently portrayed in the myth as a heroic trait to protect social justice by condemning and punishing the evils of society. Such an ambivalent identity as both monster and hero shows that Bulgasari’s embodiment of monstrosity is recognized through a different or rather complex mechanism in Korean-specific context, not uniformly recognized as enduring evil. This study traces historical descriptions of the monster Bulgasari in legend, literature, and film adaptation. Especially focusing on the North Korean film Bulgasari (1985), this study explores the way in which the ambivalent identity of the monster develops into discourses of humanity and pacifism, in both Korean-specific and transnational contexts, while mirroring the Korean and global sense of reality situated in this era of South-North division and nuclear holocaust.


ambivalence, Bulgasari, humanity, Korean legend, monstrosity, North-Korean film, pacifism

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

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International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)