Zombie For Sale (Cert 15)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 112 minutes approx.
No, this isn’t an ingenious new method of avoiding certain death – and rebirth – at the hands of the flesh eating undead by offloading them onto someone else for a profit, but a new Zom-com from Korea, so be forewarned, inevitable references to Shaun of The Dead will feature in this review.
In the rural district of Poonsang, as news breaks of the illicit trials by a pharmaceutical company of a new diabetes drug on kidnapped homeless people, a young man (Jung Ga-ram) surfaces from beneath the ground, not looking too well. He stumbles to the nearest village where the Park family run a floundering petrol station, first encountering the patriarch Man-Deok (Park In-hwan) and bites him on the head.
The rest of the family capture the zombie and lock him in a barn but fear Man-Deok will die; yet he wakes up the next morning, full of youthful virility and looking younger. When his friends learn of this, they want to feel younger too; the Parks see a money making opportunity and have the zombie bite the elderly villagers for a fee. What could possibly go wrong?
Concocting fresh ideas for the zombie movie would seem like a futile endeavour as just about every angle has been tried and run into the ground, but some people refuse to lie down so easily. First time director Lee Min-Jae is the latest to attempt to put a fresh spin on this genre, though this would be more in the storyline than then the actual portrayal of the undead lollops.
What Lee recognises is that reinventing the zombie wheel is futile so he chooses not to shy away from the conventions and staples we all know and love, and instead embraces them. So, you will see hoards of slobbering flesh eaters pressed up against locked glass doors, throats being torn apart, and hapless victims drowning in scrum of rotting bodies in Zombie For Sale (aka The Odd Family). It’s getting to this point that is the fun part.
Since their petrol station is largely inoperative, the Parks resort to sneaky methods to earn a crust – they set up cars to have a little accident then, as the only local garage, charge a fortune for the repairs. Man-Deok’s son Joon-gul (Jung Jae-young) is the handy man of the family, whilst his heavily pregnant wife Nam-joo (Uhm Ji-won) holds the purse strings and by all accounts, Joon-gul’s short and curlies too.
Daughter Hae-gul (Lee Soo-kyung) is a sullen teenage tomboy whose pet rabbits seem to die after a month of her getting them, but she has a new pet now in the zombie boy, whom she names Jong-bi (rhymes with “zombie”, geddit?). Like her rabbits, Hae-gul feeds Jong-bi on raw cabbage to stop him biting anyone else, which he takes a liking to, especially when she adds ketchup to it.
Youngest son, recently fired salaryman Min-gul (Kim Nam-gil), returns home from Seoul and doesn’t take to Jong-bi like the others have, only realising after his father has been bitten what he really is. Keen to get back into the highflying world he enjoyed in Seoul, Min-gul is quick to spot the money-making potential in Jong-bi’s rejuvenating services, and a trial run with the other village elders bears out his theory.
However, Man-Deok takes his dream holiday to Hawaii leaving the family penniless again, but fortunately word spread to other nearby residents and suddenly the Parks are back in business! Of course, they don’t know they are being bitten by a zombie – they stick their arm through a hole in the barn door, it is covered in ketchup he Jong-bi sinks his gnashers in (well, not quite his gnashers, you’ll see why).
Using zombies to satirise the exploitation and commercialism of quick fix solutions for the vain and greedy is quite the new twist. One would have to look back to the film that started the zombie movement as we know it, Night Of The Living Dead for any sort of social commentary involving reanimated corpses, but Lee is fully aware the audience will want less preaching and more carnage.
Luckily, the second half of the film delivers it in spades and for good measure, plays up to every cliché in the book, even daring to riff on Shaun of The Dead (told you). That doesn’t mean there are no fresh ideas on offer – the siege at the newly refurbished petrol station, provides Lee for ample amusing visual gags, and silly physical comedy, like Min-gul’s gormless choice of weapon against the zombies.
Following the “dysfunctional family coming together in the face of adversity” template Korean cinema uses a lot, Jong-bi slips into the background as the Parks fight to become a consolidated unit. As this is essentially about their journey anyway the script is clever in ensuring the importance of Jong-bi’s role as catalyst is not forgotten, then brilliantly subverted in the denouement.
Jung Ga-ram has probably the most thankless role in the film, staring into space, barely speaking beyond guttural grunts, eating cabbage, and stumbling about, but he attacks it with aplomb, making Jong-bi quite an amiable and sympathetic zombie. As the Parks, his co-stars gel and work so well together they do feel like a genuine family despite their disparate personalities, led by the ever reliable Jung Jae-young.
For a first time director, Lee refers to his time as an editor to understand how crucial the right shot can be and it shows throughout the film, as well as in the timing and pacing of certain scenes. A montage of single shot takes of zombie carnage impress the most, as do the scenes with multiple bodies running riot, never easy to control but Lee does just fine.
Zombie For Sale follows enough of the rules to play to the Train To Busan gallery but will garner wider appeal through its subtle and clever deconstruction of the genre conventions and mirth-making approach to the story.
Korean Language 5.1 DTS HD-MA
Korean Language Stereo
Audio Commentary by Sam Ashurst & Dan Martin
Q&A With Director Lee Min-Jae
Eat Together, kill Together: The Family-in-Peril Comedy
Making Of Featurette
Behind The Scenes
First Pressing only: Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – *** ½
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