Director: Lee Min-Jae
Cast: Jung Jae-Young, Kim Nam-Gil, Um Ji-Won, Lee Soo-Kyung, Jung Ga-Ram, Park In-Hwan
RunTime: 1 hr 50 mins
Released By: Clover Films
Opening Day: 14 March 2019
Synopsis: Human Bio, the biggest pharmaceutical company in Korea conducts illegal experiments on humans. One day, a test goes wrong and results in the creation of a zombie. Soon, in the remote countryside, the oddball PARK family makes their acquaintance with the zombie in question, Hyun-woo. Rather than being afraid of this strange creature, the Park family plots to make money out of him, especially after realizing Father-Park has his virility restored after a bite by the zombie. Only the youngest daughter Hae-gul takes a liking to Hyun-woo, and nicknames him ‘Zzongbie, the pet’. Will Zzongbie makes a home with his ‘weirder than zombie’ family?
Three years after it was bitten by the zombie bug on a ‘Train to Busan’, South Korean cinema has found creative ways to keep the ‘infection’ very much alive, including mixing it up with their signature period political drama in ‘Rampant’ and Netflix’s ‘Kingdom’.
Their latest entry into the genre sees first-time writer-director Lee Min-jae mix the typical zombie survivalist thriller with an oddball family comedy, and the results though uneven, are surprisingly delightful and winning.
As the title suggests, the story has something to do with the eccentric Park family crossing paths with a zombie and exploiting him to lucrative ends. No, it isn’t as convenient as turning him into some sort of perverted attraction for everyone to see; rather, as the head of the family Man-deok (Park In-hwan) discovers for himself, a bite from the zombie can restore one’s virility. Oh yes, not only does Man-deok look younger after being bitten, he becomes fitter and stronger, confounding both his family and his fellow elderly villagers.
If you could regain your youth just by being bitten by a zombie, would you opt for the treatment? The answer, to the aging denizens in Man-deok’s peaceful country village, is an unequivocal yes. And hence from devising ‘accidents’ so that they can earn from repairs at their auto shop from those driving by their village, Man-deok’s oldest son Joon-gul (Jung Jae-young) and his stern wife Nam-joo (Uhm Ji-won) decide to open a business exploiting the zombie’s apparent rejuvenating powers, which gets roaring from day one.
The first hour of the film is as offbeat as that set-up sounds, making the most of the Park family’s confusion, caution and craftiness. Oh yes, the zombie’s arrival is first met with plenty of confusion, with the Parks wondering how something straight out of a zombie movie could have ended up in the room – heck, they even turn to ‘Train to Busan’ to try and figure out how to handle a zombie. And no thanks to that tutorial, Nam-joo decides to err on the side of caution by pulling out all the zombie’s teeth. That is of course before they realise that they can in fact exploit the side effects of the zombie’s bite right out of their garage, even seasoning their customers’ forearm with ketchup so that the zombie will be tempted.
In between that show of entrepreneurship, there is even time for a budding relationship between the Parks’ youngest member Hae-gul (Lee Soo-kyung) and the zombie she nicknames ‘Zzongbie’. Not only does she care for it by feeding it its favourite cabbage, she also grooms it by taking it for a haircut, and subsequently even brings it around town as if the two were on a date. It doesn’t hurt that Zzongbie is quite a handsome-looking young dude if you look past his current form, and over time, her affection for him lets him rediscover surprising depths of human emotion.
Given the creative direction that writer-director Lee had taken with the material, it is more than a little disappointing that the second half unfolds more or less like how you would expect a zombie epidemic to turn out. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the youthfulness which Zzongbie bestows on those he has bitten unfortunately doesn’t last forever. Ironically, the film is better at being unconventional than it is being mainstream, and the extended showdown between the Parks and the horde of zombies gathered at their residence isn’t quite as engaging as watching them get up close and personal with Zzongbie.
Still, the somewhat underwhelming finale is saved by an unexpected twist at the end, which we dare say is quite the perfect finish by not only bringing the earlier events full circle, but also serving as a witty metaphor of how one’s actions can come back to bite you. Lee also has his cast to thank for carrying the movie to a rousing finish, in particular Park as the family’s endearing patriarch and Uhm as the take-no-prisoners daughter-in-law. Oh yes, they may not be household names or faces, but each member of the ensemble plays his or her character with plenty of distinctive personality.
So though ‘The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale’ follows in the footsteps of ‘Train to Busan’ and ‘Rampant’, it is bold enough to define its own style, and is in turn better off for it. To be sure, this isn’t blockbuster filmmaking on the scale of its predecessors, but a more intimate, quirky and even wacky take on the zombie genre that mirrors the sort of indie comedy Hollywood is known for. It could do with more conviction to its own eccentric rhythm in the second half, but otherwise, there is still enough inventive wit here to guarantee an agreeably zany time.
(An offbeat zombie comedy that turns the genre on its head, this weird and wacky South Korean entry into the genre proves delightful and winning)
Review by Gabriel Chong