Director: Son Jae-Gon
Cast: Ahn Jae-Hong, Kang So-Ra, Park Young-Gyu, Kim Sung-Oh, Jeon Yeo-Bin
Runtime: 1 hr 58 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Encore Films
Opening Day: 25 January 2020
Synopsis: A bright comedy of goofy zookeepers keeping the top secrets of the zoo. Stuck in a dead-end temp position at a renowned law firm, attorney-at-law Tae-su dreams of one day landing a permanent position there. He spends each day to the fullest to reach his goal and he gets the chance of a lifetime. He's given a special job to revitalize a failing zoo. The problem is, there aren't any animals... He has exactly 3 months to do so, and with the zookeepers' help, he comes up with a brilliant idea: no one thinks there are fake animals at the zoo, so why not dress up like animals and put on shows for guests? One by one, zookeepers put on animal suits and masks and become polar bear, lion, gorilla and sloth! The new zoo opens and Tae-su's polar bear goes viral when a video of him drinking a can of coke hits the internet! Thanks to everyone's help, the zoo with fake animals is a massive hit and Tae-su can now go back to the law firm with a permanent job. But before he leaves the zoo, he finds out what his law firm was planning with the zoo... Can Tae-su come up with another brilliant idea to save not only himself but the zookeepers and the zoo?
Last year, we have a bunch of fumbling cops going undercover in a fried chicken shop in Extreme Job. This year, we have a bunch of zoo employees dressing up in animal suits trying desperately to revive a bankrupt zoo in Korean’s box-office hit comedy, Secret Zoo.
Korea cinema never seems to run out of fresh ideas although the story itself is based on a popular webtoon. Adapted to the screen and directed by the relatively unknown Son Jae-gon, Secret Zoo is packed with enough silly laughs and lively performances from a bunch of relatively unfamiliar cast members.
Kang Tae-soo (Ahn Jae-hong) is a lowly temporary lawyer at one of Korea’s top legal firm until one day he is given the task of reviving a bankrupt zoo by the company’s director. If Kang is successful in his assignment, he will be allocated a permanent post in the firm’s mergers and acquisitions department. Predictably, Kang took up the challenge only to find out that the zoo is left with no animals except a few parrots, a racoon and a sick polar bear. Apparently, the main stars such as the giraffe, lion and gorilla have been sold to repay the zoo’s debts.
Left with the former zoo director Seo (Park Young-gyu), veterinarian Han (Kang So-ra), zookeepers Geon-wook (Kim Sung-oh) and Hae-kyeong (Jeon Yeo-bin), Kang hatched up a plan to dress themselves in animal suits to attract the crowds back to the zoo only to find out that this is only the start of his many challenges to come.
Secret Zoo took a while to setup the premise which explains why the fun part only arrives much later as the characters struggle to stay and entertain visitors in their respective stuffy animal suits. Han’s lion suit is only convincing from the front so her back must never face the visitors. Seo’s age make it difficult for him to stay in his polar bear suit for long and Hae-kyeong is almost perfect in her sloth suit. And you need to watch for yourself how they fake the presence of a giraffe. Coca-cola probably paid millions to have it display prominently throughout the movie as there’s a running gag of a polar bear drinking coke. Yes in reference to that famous polar bear Coke commercial.
Not all of Secret Zoo is a joke though as it’s also a repetitive message on why wild animals shouldn’t be kept in cages and concrete walls in the first place. And as with any well-meaning title, the movie also spends a considerable amount of screentime criticising Korea’s infamous corporate greed and working culture. Add to that, there’s also an underdeveloped romance subplot between zookeepers Geon-wook (Kim Sung-oh) and Hae-kyeong.
Secret Zoo is not nearly as funny once the zoo gag runs out of steam. But not to worry, there’s a prolonged CGI bear attack in the finale to rustle things up if you are tired of human in suits. But generally, the movie still contained some genuine fun despite being slightly 20 minutes too long.
(While not exactly flawless, Secret Zoo is still a crowd-pleasing movie)
Review by Linus Tee