The only zombie in the village
The zombie film sub-genre, much like its main protagonists, has gone through various mutations since its emergence in Victor Halperin’s seminal White Zombie, nearly a century ago. Since the formidable Train to Busan, technically depicting the faster and angrier “infected”, a variant of the zombies (but let’s not quibble), it seems that it has managed to contaminate South Korea, a country which was never famous for it. In fact, Train to Busan made such an impact on South Korean culture, that it’s even referenced in The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale (a convoluted international title which oddly perfectly summarises the film) Lee Min-jae’s first directorial effort.
Human Bio, the biggest pharmaceutical company in Korea conducts illegal experiments on humans. One day, a test goes wrong, and it results in the creation of a zombie (Jung Ga-ram, Believer). Soon, in the remote countryside, the oddball Park family encounters the zombie in question but rather than being afraid of this strange creature, they plot to make money out of him, especially after realising their father (Park In-hwan, Exit)’s sudden restored virility from a bite of the zombie.
Zombie films have always become more striking when they’ve tried to divert the codes of the genre by bringing new elements to the hackneyed recipe. Not derogating from this rule, in The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale, Lee Min-jae introduces two key elements: a funny, yet perfectly believable, twist in codes so much engrained in audiences’ mind that filmmakers often shy away from subverting them, and a social background perfectly in adequation with his ambitions to breath new blood in the genre, whilst delivering a still relevant message about modernity of big cities versus peacefulness of small villages.
The rural village in which The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale takes place allows the director to use some of its characteristic (slower pace of living, more natural food) in order to blend them within the genre without raising any concerns from the audience (slow pace of contamination, “Zongbie”’s love of cabbage). In doing so, the director also allows the audience to get familiar with all the protagonists before the inevitable reversal of fortune which looms over them.
But really, more than anything else, this is a comedy which enjoys diverting the codes of the genre to give birth to a hybrid object which never goes where it’s expected to. This freedom of tone provides the film with an instant pleasure quality but also allows Lee Min-jae to achieve his goal through the creation of a disparate gallery of memorable characters, especially in the Park family, particularly well interpreted by excellent actors led by Jeong Jae-yeong (Moss) and Uhm Ji-won (The Silenced). If one can only relish at seeing them going through their hilarious shenanigans, when things get serious, the empathy towards this weird family is clearly here.
The only negative thing that could be said about the film is that it has a slight propensity to stretch the limits of its concept, and the traits of its main characters at the same time, leading Lee Min-jae to sometimes confuse taking his time and adopting an adequate pace.
This small issues aside The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale remains, yet again, a clear example of the vitality of South Korean cinema which always works wonders even where one does not especially expects it.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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