Monday, July 08, 2019

NYAFF ’19: Odd Family Zombie On-Sale

We have long argued South Korea cinema has a well-earned competitive advantage when it comes to creepy serial killer thrillers, but whoever expected them to basically take a surprise corner on the crowded zombie market? Of course, it started with the instant classic Train to Busan and its animated prequel, Seoul Station, and continued with the zombie historical, Rampant. Screenwriter-director Lee Min-jae now stakes a claim to zombie comedy territory with the bizarre ruckus that is Odd Family: Zombie On-Sale, which screens during the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival.

Apparently, the young man shambling towards town is one of the college students who was experimented on by a scandal-ridden Pharma company. Initially, he does not make much of a stir, because he is a weirdly polite zombie. In contrast, Man-Deok’s family are pretty rude and obnoxious. Ostensibly, they run a rural service station, but most of their repair clients find their way there through the family’s underhanded tricks. The eldest son Joon-gul does the dirty work and his wife Nam-joo handles the collections. The middle son Min-gul left to work in Seoul, but he has just returned home after getting sacked. The youngest sibling, Hae-gul broods disgustedly, like any teenager embarrassed by her family.

For some reason, Hae-gul seems to have a rapport with the formerly handsome young zombie when he shuffles into town. He really is well behaved, preferring to chop on cabbage instead of human brains. However, when he bites down on bitter old Man-Deok’s scalp, suddenly he gets an infusion of youthful vitality. Soon, the town’s codgers start lining up for a fountain-of-youth bite from “Zzong-bie,” as Hae-gul dubs him, for which the family is only too happy to supply for a reasonable fee. Of course, zombies are still zombies, so the town will inevitably be over-run by a zombie apocalypse—and it will all be the fault of Man-Deok’s family.

Odd Family is a gleefully wild and crazy comedy that still respects the conventions of zombie movies. In fact, the third act turns into a pretty darned credible walking dead stand-off. Nevertheless, its in-your-face attitude never flags for a moment. Zombie comedies are usually very hit-or-miss affairs, but this one mostly hits—and when it hits, it hits hard.

It is also almost shocking to see Jung Jae-young, the hard-nosed star of Confession of Murder and Broken playing a hen-pecked goofball like Joon-gul, but he dives in with both feet. Lee Soo-kyung could inspire some Ellen Ripley-like memes with her forceful portrayal as the resourceful Hae-gul (her weapon of choice is the weed-whacker). Kim Nam-gil oozes sleaze as Min-gul, while Jung Ga-ram does a nice job of humanizing Zzong-bie.

Odd Family has one of the cleverest and most satisfying endings of any zombie movie yet produced, but it would be nearly impossible for any future film to rip it off. At one point, Lee Min-jae also seems to tip his hat to Train to Busan, in a subtle manner. Altogether, it is jolly good fun. Very highly recommended for zombie fans, Odd Family: Zombie for Sale screens tomorrow night (7/9) as part of NYAFF ’19 and for those who will be in Montreal, on July 29th during the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival.