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"One Last Monster" is a loving, chaotic parable that is rooted in Korean history

One of the most striking visual elements of Gene Kim's animated short film One Last Monster, which is currently touring festivals, is the giant turtle shells. The kingdom of Adin is being led to war by huge, stocky Chelonians with cannons on their backs. They're a formidable defense, extremely cute – and rooted in one of the most beloved stories in Korean history

Kim told me that the turtles were partly inspired by Korean ships known as the turtle ships, which were known to repel Japanese invaders during the Imjin War between 1592 and 1598. The ships remain a great source of national pride as they were among the first armored ships in the world. But the turtle pools also came into being sluggishly when Kim saw someone walking three turtles in New York City's Central Park. "I saw them and thought what if we scaled these guys down to kaiju size?" He said, referring to the giant monsters of Japanese cinema.

One of the most striking visual elements of Gene Kim's animated short film One Last Monster, which is currently touring festivals, is the giant turtle shells. The kingdom of Adin is being led to war by huge, stocky Chelonians with cannons on their backs. They're a formidable defense, extremely cute – and rooted in one of the most beloved stories in Korean history

Kim told me that the turtles were partly inspired by Korean ships known as the turtle ships, which were known to repel Japanese invaders during the Imjin War between 1592 and 1598. The ships remain a great source of national pride as they were among the first armored ships in the world. But the turtle pools also came into being sluggishly when Kim saw someone walking three turtles in New York City's Central Park. "I saw them and thought what if we scaled these guys down to kaiju size?" He said, referring to the giant monsters of Japanese cinema.

So the turtle tanks are big enough to have roots in Korea, Japan, and the United States – which is a good description of One Last Monster itself. The short film mixes 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 country the most when you invite other people, not when you keep them out.

Kim was born in South Korea and moved to the United States when she was 2 years old. His father is an auditor, his mother a jewelry designer; he attributes his artistic inclinations to her. Kim interned at Pixar during college and after graduating from Disney, but he was intrigued by the idea of ​​developing his own project rooted in Korean culture. On a loan from his parents, he began writing what became One Last Monster in 2016, just as Donald Trump's xenophobic, anti-immigrant US presidential campaign was ramping up. The short film has been shown at festivals in recent years and won first prize in 2020 for the best animated short film of 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 snacking on Korean fried chicken. "She knows her food!" Said Kim. Adin also shares Korea's invasion history – although the conquerors are more likely to be kaiju from space, influenced by Japanese movie monsters, than Japanese or Chinese troops from overland or overseas.

To repel the intruders, Eura builds a massive fortress. In addition, her tortured husband, Emperor Taejo, leaves her with a mysterious flame of great destructiveness. However, when she starts using it, a huge 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 it destroy.

Didas is voiced by Mike Meth with a rumbling, soothing bass. Even so, 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 monster cave!" Says an angry advisor.

The destructive flame and the imagery of what it did on Dida's world are in the tradition of apocalyptic Japanese animes like Neon Genesis Evangelion, which reflect Japan's experience of being the only nation to be attacked by nuclear weapons. However, Kim said he is also considering North Korean isolationism and nuclear threats. "Adin's rhetoric is, 'Let's destroy everyone else or make sure we can destroy everyone else so we can be safe," "he told me.

The film is reminiscent of the paranoid xenophobia in North Korea, but is also an allusion to the paranoid xenophobia that can also prevail in the USA. Given the current rise in anti-Asian violence in the United States, it is easy to read One Last Monster as a parable about conditions in North America, rather than the stalemate on the Korean peninsula.

Didas takes over the reconstruction of Adin. But no matter how much infrastructure he builds or how much food he produces for the sleepy turtle tank, he is still considered an outsider. “Your Majesty, do I have to prove myself more ?!” he asks annoyed. Unfortunately, the answer is yes; Immigrants can never stop proving themselves. Although (or especially if) it is possible that these immigrants may be the subject of some romantic interest.

One Last Monster develops its clues that Eura and Didas become more than friends, not really. The short film is only 23 minutes long and feels rushed and underdeveloped in some places. We never really learn what the flame is or why Eura is the only person who can control it. Her late husband's motives and future marital obligations are also obscure. It's hard to gauge their decisions because we don't know exactly how much Adin is actually exposed to constant threats or who wants to get into her. Indeed, ancient Korea was constantly threatened by a military takeover; today's United States, not so much. Adin is somehow both at the same time. That creates interesting parallels, but also some incoherences.

It's true that not everything fits together in One Last Monster. But as with the turtle tanks, the awkwardness has its own appeal. It's a hodgepodge of anime traditions, Western animation, and Korean history and ideas. This presented many challenges for the creators – it was surprisingly difficult to make visual references to design clothing, architecture, and other aspects of the world, Kim said. But animation was also an opportunity to create something that looks and feels different from any of its sources.

In a reversal of Beauty and the Beast, the story ends with Eura unexpectedly transforming into a large blue kaiju. Didas changed Adin and / or vice versa. The title's One Last Monster is not necessarily the last invader, but what grows when different monsters collide. Like Eura, Kim is a constructive Kaiju. Who knows what worlds you can create if you tear down some walls?

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