Friday, November 06, 2020

[Movie Review] The Odd Family - Zombie On Sale (2019)


This movie was sponsored by LSD. Which is actually quite beautiful.

It might be about zombies, it might be about family, but underneath it all is (no, not Shakira) a tale about male vanity. This movie points out this "virility complex" in just the right doses. The rest is pure insanity.
Now, some people may know that a movie that has two of my favorite Korean actors may not be the most objectively reviewed movie ever, but I never claimed I am an unbiased reviewer. In fact, I am a complete opposite - I am very, very biased. 
I bet everyone had fun while making this movie, because it takes the jab at various tropes used in zombie movies, but also points to some inherently human behavior - stupidity. The process of zombiefication here is confined within the movie limits, so it applies only to this particular plot line. It's not a bad thing, in my opinion, as it tries something else and doesn't fall in the same pattern as the other, more violent and gory, movies about zombies (Train to Busan, Peninsula, Rampage or recent #Alive). Of course purists may scoff at this, but I did not pay much attention to this, because I was swept by the tidal wave of grotesque.
The whole movie starts with a scam. The oldest out of the three siblings, Jun-geol (played by Jeong Jaeyoung), runs a scam. Literally. He owns the gas station "in the boonies" as they say, somewhere outside Pungsan, where no one really visits. So to get more money, he "happens" to be at the scene with his hauling truck when cars break down on the road. And they break down because there might or might not be some sharp spikes scattered on the road. He offers help (well, if by "offer" we understand practically forcing people into) and fixes the car - for the hefty price. And the money are safely stashed away by his pregnant wife, a quiet lady with a penchant for violence. And frying pans. Violence by frying pans, to be precise.

At the same time, we learn that one bio-research company is embroiled in a scandal, and accused of creating the means that can lead to zombies. So the company gets rid of all the evidence. However, the said evidence manages to crawl back from the sewer and out of the plastic bag. 
Let's make one thing clear - he is not a very proficient in this whole zombie thing. He's probably more of an introductory level. When he tries to attack two ajummas - he just falls right in between them and they don't even stop their chatter to notice him. Then he's ridiculed by some kids who run from him with no problem. Especially when our zombie lad just tries to do everything by the book and walks in a zombie manner.

At the village he spots his chance for a meal - a big black dog. Which quickly turns out to be a mistake as it is him who has to run from the dog. This way he's met with two people from a bigger, slightly chaotic family: Haegeol (Yi Sugyeong) - the youngest child from the family, and Min-geol (Kim Namgil) - the middle kid, who was just laid off and came back home just itching to make some money (legal or not). Exasperated for a meal he goes for what zombies are supposedly fans of - the brain, and attacks the patriarch of the bizarre family - Mandeok. To his chagrin, a skull is a hard thing to bite into so our poor zombie just scratches the man's skin and has to leave to save his... life. To make things worse - he's hit with Jun-geol's truck and lands on the field, but quickly gets up and gallops away.

I have to admit, I felt really sorry for our zombie lad, named Jjong-bi here. When he entered the shed, looking for something to eat, he was skewered by Jun-geol, but the remorse for killing a guy was quickly subsided when the said guy just un-skewered himself. Then Min-geol realized they have a zombie on their hands. A zombie who went for a cabbage like... well, zombie after brains. Because a cabbage looks like a human head a bit. I have found this element hilarious, not only a vegetarian zombie who devours cabbages like there's no tomorrow (even better if there's ketchup. No, I'm serious.) but also because a cabbage heart serves as an idiom here in my country meaning that someone is unbearably dumb. So a human's (empty) head is compared to a literal cabbage. Our Jjong-bi nomming on cabbages is just too good of a joke to not appreciate it.

And I was sorry also because he was abused. As we learn, his fingerprints are not in the system,meaning his birth was never registered. This casts some dark shadow on a funny movie in overall. The police officer says it sometimes happens especially at places like this one, when a kid is born with deformities or otherwise deemed not needed, the child is not registered. Little wonder he was a subject of some experiments and then thrown away when the company started to sink. And then, he was abused once again when Namju, Jun-geol's wife, pulled out his every teeth, so that he wouldn't bite anyone. Which also prevented him from nomming on a cabbage. I know I shouldn't have but damn me, I really felt sorry for a boy.

Namju, by doing this, thwarted Mandeok's plans to use our zombie to get rich and finally go to Hawaii. As it turns out, and initially against the Min-geol's "research" on the internet weird side (and empirical test meaning hitting his father as much as he could), Mandeok was fine after the bite. Even more - he visibly got younger and more energetic. This change could not escape the prying eyes of all his older friends, one of whom was supposed to get married, so the question of being able to have sex was of a more pressing nature. And here we come to the one of many absurd but so on point scenes. Mandeok, unfazed by a toothless zombie, gets him some dentures and starts the business - each of the paying customers gets a bite from our zombie. Of course with some ketchup on the arm.

And of course it works similar to Mandeok's case. The very next day each of the grandpas is sprinting through the village, doing heavy lifting on the cabbage field, helps with carrying heavy loads. Interestingly, there is not even one woman who gets bitten for money. One - the geezers kept it a secret so the sudden return of their virility would be something they could be proud of. Second - it proves how sexual prowess shapes the lives of men in every generation. Min-geol, seeing this sudden outburst of the Iuventas' blessing, immediately went for the only field this abilities would be profitable - Viagra-like treatment. So he kidnapped our poor zombie to trade him. Not even once. Thankfully, the police officers managed to arrest him. When he kidnapped him twice - all the hell broke lose.

Our poor zombie boy is treated fairly only by Haegeol. A girl unable to take care of some rabbits (they always seem to die in her care), takes care of Jjong-bi and he's out in the open as one more member of the truly odd family - he gets new clothes, new haircut and even make-up to hid his lifeless color and scars. The gas station flourishes, Jun-geol changes the gasoline tanks, hoping this place would revive as well (parallel to the sudden revival of virility in the village elders) for his upcoming new addition to the family.

And few days after Mandeok's disappearance (with all Namju's hidden money too) to Hawaii - the hell breaks lose. As it turns out, the zombie virus incubates and works in numbers - the higher number of infected, the quicker it works to zombify the host. So when there is few people, it takes some time, but when the infected numbers rise, it accelerates. The critical mass was reached at the wedding, when suddenly every male was feeling unbearably hot, meaning they are turning at the same time. And turn they did. They in turn infected others so it started to overflow into the village and soon almost everyone except for our family was bitten and turned to a zombie.

Meanwhile, Min-geol does what usually not the smartest beans in the pod do - he still thinks he can use Jjong-bi to sell him off and make money so he snatches him up and go to the bus terminal to go to Seoul. And he could do this because Haegeol took our zombie boy and asked him to run, which was actually too much for his defunct brain to process, so he just stood there with cabbages for a journey, and therefore an easy target for Min-geol. Min-geol not only hit his father because he thought he was a zombie, and also because thinking is not his strongest suit (but conspiracy theories are), but he also managed to use him later as the cure. Opportunist, but not very bright.
While waiting at the bus station, they are hit with a zombie wave rummaging through the village and Min-geol barely manages to steal some truck and go back to the gas station where everyone barricades upstairs.

I honestly can't describe the chaos and absurd humor that permeated the scenes of the zombie attacks and swarming. It was a mix of typical tropes from zombie movies (even from Warm Bodies) with scenes that would normally never work - like the disco rave after Min-geol (again, not the smartest out there) fired the fireworks at the zombie crowd. At the gas station. 
Anyway, one zombie police officer got entangled in the electrical cables on the roof and him being electrocuted looked like he was the Dj at the club. I mean, this scene just works on screen. Perfectly.

Anyway, to not make it overly long, as Korea descended into chaos, the government fell and zombies overrun the streets, the unlikely hero returned from Hawaii. Turns out - he's immune. So the tables have turned in the funniest way possible. And guess who is biting whom now.

This is precisely this kind of movie that will not work for everyone, but if someone looks only for an entertainment - well, they will get it. If Warm Bodies didn't work for someone, zombie oppa will not work here either. But it's a perfect snack if you want a hilariously absurd comedy with a fresh approach (it's a director/screenwriter Yi Minjae's first movie). It's about family (more or less functional) and sticking together in a hard time. And it's also a valuable lesson that you really should have lots of cooking pans - just in case of a zombie apocalypse. This or cabbages.