It must be pretty clear to film fans everywhere that Korea have been knocking it out of the park recently with their film releases – the most obvious example being 2019’s Oscar-winning thriller, Parasite. Bong Joon Ho’s film has received worldwide love and attention and for good reason: it’s bloody brilliant.
But for fans of foreign language films, Korea has long been on the radar for producing great films. Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy (2002’s Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, 2003’s Oldboy and 2005’s Lady Vengeance), along with 2008’s The Chaser, 2010’s I Saw the Devil and 2016’s The Wailing, are all fine examples of talented filmmakers making great films. Korea even succeeds when making more cult fare like 2008 western The Good, the Bad, the Weird and 2017 action thriller The Villainess. But where a lot of horror fans will probably point you is in the direction of 2016’s zombie horror Train to Busan. Already hailed as a classic by zombie/horror fans and casual film fans everywhere, Train to Busan is something of a zombie movie masterpiece.
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With Arrow Video’s new horror release, Zombie For Sale, first time writer/director Lee Min-jae does Korea proud again, with his zom-com with added rom which nods to the zombie classics, as well as having its own unique vision of the zombie in general.
Also known as The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale, Zombie For Sale initially uses a familiar reason for its virus/infection spread: illegal experiments from a pharmaceutical company accidentally create a zombie. That might seem all too familiar to fans of old school zombie flicks, but the zombie we get is far from generic and is, in fact, more vulnerable and definitely funnier than you would normally expect from most zombie movies. Say no more, as his standard choice of diet is a highlight of the film and one of the things that make this particular zombie, and the film itself, such a unique and funny proposition.
Of course, it’s not just the zombies that make a zombie film work but the other characters too. The Park family in Zombie for Sale can certainly be described as odd (as the alternative title suggests), and prove to be dysfunctional in a way that could put the Kim family from Parasite to shame! They all seem so different from one another it’s hard to believe that they are a family. But this is possibly part of Lee Min-jae’s plan, as when the family’s elderly father (Park In-hwan) gets bitten by our inadvertently created zombie (Jung Ga-ram), the Parks have to come up with a way to deal with situation the best way they can and later work together to deal with the inevitable consequences of someone getting bitten by a zombie.
These consequences are delivered in a fun, entertaining and sometimes hilarious fashion, especially when the Parks realise that they can use their new-found zombie friend to their advantage – something this down-on-their-luck family will use even further to their advantage after the film’s exciting final scenes have died down. Without giving anything away, it feels like a well deserved victory by that point, as in between the Parks go through enough drama, disappointment, excitement and scares to last them a lifetime. Add in some potential budding romance between our zombie and the Park family’s pretty daughter, Hae-geol (Soo-kyung Lee) and you’ve got an almost complete package to create “the perfect zombie movie”, if such a thing exists. Probably best to talk to George A. Romero fans about that.
But unfortunately, Zombie For Sale isn’t quite the perfect or complete zombie movie you want it to be. There’s very little in the way of gore. For some, this won’t be a problem; for others, it’ll be near blasphemy. It certainly isn’t the be all and end all. Especially as this is a comedy based around a family unit with a side order of romance as opposed to brain-munching hordes of the undead taking over an unsuspecting city while a dysfunctional military outfit is sent in to take the zombies out. Or something. But having said that, a bit of blood and guts is always welcome, and although you do get the occasional appetiser, it’s not quite enough to satisfy the hunger of a zombie horror gorehound.
Another minor grumble is Zombie For Sale‘s runtime. At a little under two hours, it feels a bit too long for a film of this type, and you can’t help but think of the benefits that a little trimming down of certain scenes, and editing here and there might have had on the overall feel of the film. Its final scenes and climax are still an entertaining watch but could have been even more so. But as stated, that’s a minor grumble and not something that should put potential viewers off.
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Some decent extras for Zombie For Sale include a brand new commentary with filmmakers and critics Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin; a Q&A with director Lee Min-jae; a video essay by critic and producer Pierce Conran, looking at Korea’s social satires; a making-of featurette; behind-the-scenes footage; and the original trailer, plus a reversible sleeve with new artwork. First pressings of Zombie For Sale include a collector’s booklet with new writing on the film.
Overall, Zombie For Sale is a fun and entertaining take on the zombie movie and certainly has its unique aspects, which is certainly impressive for a first time director in Lee Min-jae. It’s not without its faults, but with little nods to the classics, including George A. Romero’s use of social satire in his zombie movies, an engaging story, a good cast and interesting characters, and some genuinely funny and exciting moments, Zombie For Sale could well become a favourite among zombie lovers everywhere. Korean cinema has done it again – if only just.
Zombie For Sale is out on Blu-ray on 6th July from Arrow Video.