Thursday, July 11, 2019

NYAFF ’19: Zombiepura

There are reasons to think a military base would be a good place to be when the zombie apocalypse breaks out. They have plenty of guns and medicine stock-piled and a guard duty schedule is already in place. Alas, the survival rate will still be pretty low for the Singaporean soldiers in Jacen Tan’s Zombiepura, which screens during the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival.

This film has been billed as Singapore’s first zombie film—and the tiny archipelago nation is off to a decent start. However, the main character does not wear so well. Corporal Tan Kayu is a slacker reservist largely lacking charm as well as discipline. Ironically, when he tries to fake conjunctivitis to get out of drills, it will put him squarely in the eye of the zombie hurricane (that is a metaphorical zombie hurricane, not a literal SyFy Channel movie zombie hurricane).

Together with Sgt. Lee Siao-on, the son of the regiment commander, and Susie, the daughter of the canteen caterer, Tan will have to fight his way out of the infirmary and avoid the zombies shuffling all over the base. It will be a challenge for Tan and the by-the-book Lee to put aside their differences, given their history of Gomer Pyle-style antagonism. Frankly, the zombies are probably working as a more cohesive unit. Thanks to muscle memory and conditioned responses, the zombie soldiers continue to stand guard and make patrols. More usefully, they stand stock-still whenever the national anthem is played.

Jacen Tan deserves credit for developing some amusing new twists to the established zombie conventions. However, his characterization could still use a little work. There is not a darned thing about Tan Kayu that is appealing or interesting, but we are forced to spend nearly the entire film with him. Likewise, despite Chen Xiuhuan’s bright screen presence, there is not much personality to Susie.

Regardless, Tan deserves credit for scoring some laughs while simultaneously taking care of the zombie business. The ratio of characters killed or turned to zombies versus healthy survivors must be comparable to that of The Walking Dead or the original Night of the Living Dead. Despite Tan Kayu’s jerkweediness, we would re-enlist for a sequel. Recommended for zombie fans, Zombiepura screens this Saturday (7/13) as part of NYAFF ’19.