Zombie for Sale (2019) Arrow Video July 7th 2020
Directed By: Lee Min-jae
Starring: Ga-ram Jung, Soo-kyung Lee, Nam-gil Kim
It seems that as international horror goes, zombies are the in thing once again. 2017's Australian film Cargo, the South Korean smash hit Train to Busan (2016) and 2019's Zombie for Sale another offering from South Korea. A drug companies illegal activities results in bringing back the living dead. The zombie makes his way to a small village where he meets the Park family. The Parks are a small family of grifters trying to get their gas station up and running. Through some hi-jinks we learn that when the mysterious zombie bites someone they turn youthful. This gives the father an idea. Why not charge his other elderly friends to get bitten? Soon, more people learn of this and the Park family is rolling in money. They learn that the youthful phase is only temporary and soon they are facing a hoard of flesh eating zombies. Meanwhile daughter Hae-Gul (Soo-kyung Lee) falls in love with the original mysterious zombie.
It was a bold choice for director Lee Min-jae to go with a zombie film for his first outing. After all zombie films are easy to make but hard to pull off correctly. This is because the horror sub-genre has been, pardon the pun 'done to death' and you have to bring something fresh to the table. Lee Min-jae does just that for the most part. From the very first second of Zombie for Sale its clear that the director has a style in mind and the mood and atmosphere that he captures when introducing the lead zombie is awe-inspiring. He knows how to frame a shot and capture the tone. Lee employees a weird over saturated look to the film. This look might have been an issue but the wackiness and weirdness seems to lend itself to this sort of otherworldly look. Thankfully, he never goes over board. The overall visual style of the film is incredible and elevates the entire affair. The thing is, as much as I love a good broody zombie film its nice to have a comedy-zombie outing. But, I was afraid that the comedy might become too broad. But, similar to Shaun of the Dead (2004), the film strikes a good balance between heart, humor and, brainnns! Its such a clever story device, to have people willingly getting bitten by zombies if it means getting younger. Its a wonderful subversion but I wish they would have maybe used that opportunity to satire the beauty industry. The cast is fantastic and everybody knows exactly how hammy to get without going into caricatures. Thats not an easy task but Lee seems to know just the right balance of serious and absurd for his actors. Fans of the zombie genre will find some sublet references early on in the film. The look of the zombies are really something to behold. They are effective in their design and thankfully do not come off silly. Overall, the gore effects are really great as well.
As brilliant as the film is its not without some flaws. The pace moves incredibly fast but the problem with that is we dont ever get a clear picture of the Park family. I would have loved for some more fleshed out characters. Hae-Gul is the person we get some depth with and what feels like a fully formed story arc by the films end. Towards the third act, when we get into fully rip-roaring zombie mood its here that Lee-Min jae's zombie references start to show a bit too on the nose. The nods to Shaun of the Dead and Land of the Dead (2005) (ala the fire works) are not so subtle.
Despite that the film manages to stick the landing with a wonderful finale with the family having gone through some important changes. For a feature debut this is truly an exciting and fun film. Zombie for Sale has the high energy of early Peter Jackson with the clever plotting and detail of Edgar Wright. I hope that Lee Min-jae sticks with horror but, whatever genre he does next I will be excited to see what he does.
Yes, its cool to have dark, brooding bleak zombie movies but dammit sometimes I just wanna watch a zombie violently munching on a cabbage with drenched in ketchup. An excellent film that you shouldn't sleep on.
I love that Arrow Video has been distributing international indie horror fare. The film looks great on Blu Ray. The transfer looks great and highlights Lee's visual language. The sound is also great with a nice 2.0 track. The dialogue comes through crystal clear as does the score. Arrow has provided a nice array of extra's as always. We get a great director Q&A from a 2019 screening at Asia Pop-Up Cinema in Chicago. Moderated by film critic Darcy Paquet. (12mins)
Eat Together, Kill Together: The Family in Peril Comedy: In this video essay by critic Pierce Conran he explores the social satires of within the context of Koeran cinema. I found this extremely interesting as it helped add culture context to the film. Rounding out the features is a short Making of featurette, Behind the scenes and feature length commentary by Sam Ashurst and Dan Martin. The commentary is a fun listen. Dan Martin and Sam Ashurst have both worked on film, notably special effects. It was great to get their insights for the film.
Overall a nice selection of features for a exciting and enjoyable indie flick.