By DAKOTA DAHL
Starring Jae-yeong Jeong, Ga-ram Jung, Nam-gil Kim, Soo-kyung Lee, Ji-won Uhm
Directed by Lee Min-jae
Cinezoo/Arrow Film Distributors
Horror comedy is a difficult genre to pull off. I find very few films that can pull off some genuine frights while still getting a belly laugh. You either go full in on the jokes and end up trivializing the terror, or audiences are so busy worried for the characters on the screen that they forgot to loosen up and crack a smile. South Korea’s ZOMBIE FOR SALE attempts to toe that line, ends up leaning more heavily on the comedy, but still pulls off a pretty fantastic film. This is a zombie film that functions almost as the complete opposite of Train to Busan (which even gets a smart reference inside the film) but in the best way possible.
It should be noted that the another working title for this film is THE ODD FAMILY: ZOMBIE ON SALE is far more apt, since the focal point of the narrative is definitely the Park family, with the titular zombie being almost incidental (at least up until the final half of the third act.) They are a down on their luck bunch who mainly earn an income by scamming passersby, because even in a film about undead cannibals, the real monster is always capitalism. Heck, the zombie is even created through unregulated testing by a pharmaceutical company on a homeless man, which isn’t exactly subtle social commentary.
The Parks soon discover that a bite from a zombie has beneficial side effects, and set about exploiting that, although the family members rarely agree on how to best exploit him. As always with get rich quick schemes contained in horror films, there are unintended consequences, which don’t really need to be revealed here.
I was particularly taken aback but the incredible directing and color composition of the film. Lee Min-jae’s directorial debut shows off such incredible mastery of the camera, following pretty strictly the filming rule of “every frame is a painting.” Scenes are rarely crowded, follow the rule of thirds and pan/dolly/zoom with such glorious efficiency, I was surprised. The colors are like a more flashy Wes Anderson film, as well, which adds to the “zany” aspect of the film.
The only major misstep are some of the plot points seem less like an homage and more like a straight rip off. The budding romance between daughter Hye-gul (Lee Soo-kyung, Let’s Eat, Rainbow Eyes) seems more than a little reminiscent of Warm Bodies. Zombies get distracted by fireworks, much like in Romero’s oft forgotten Land of the Dead and characters bluff their way through crowds of zombies by miming being undead, which we all saw in the classic romzomcom Shaun of the Dead.
The gore and chills are minimal, but it works for something light and breezy with a slightly wicked driving force for a theme. And despite the goofball nature of the family and the subject matter, during the more somber moments, you get to see and actual family struggle with reconciling their differences in order to better love each other. There’s more than a few touching moments here.
Come for the laughs, stay for the tears, enjoy a few Walkers along the way. ZOMBIE FOR SALE hits Arrow Video Channel (which is now free for 30 days) TODAY, July 1st 2020!