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The Zombie plague reaches Korea with “The Neighbor Zombie”, a film which is the very definition of a labour of love, having been directed by four highly dedicated individuals using a digital camera and a starting budget of just of US$17,000. Oh Young Doo, Ryu Hoon, Jang Youn Jung and Hong Young Guen all spent the last few years working in various positions in the Korean industry, before pooling their talents and resources, sharing the many duties across the ambitious production. The result is a work of obvious passion and enthusiasm, which successfully manages to bridge the tricky gap between horror, humour and social commentary. The film was well received by critics, winning two awards at the 2009 Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival, and has been garnering positive word of mouth from genre fans on the international circuit.
Starting with an animated credits sequence to set the scene, “The Neighbor Zombie” comprises six short stories revolving around a zombie virus outbreak in Seoul. The six cover a wide and eclectic range of topics and scenarios, and roughly chart the progression of the undead plague and its aftermath. Briefly, the different shorts are:
Run Away – A young woman and her part-zombified boyfriend sit in their apartment trying to figure out how to escape the authorities as he slowly succumbs to the disease.
Mother, I Love You – A woman takes care of her infected and voraciously hungry mother, keeping her chained up and feeding her with blood. Trouble ensues when a member of the police task force shows up and tries to convince her to kill the wretched creature.
The age of Vaccine – A group of three soldiers on a search mission for a rogue doctor involved in making a vaccine get caught up in a fight between a strange man wearing a gas mask and a criminal who injects himself with a super powered zombie derived drug.
And after that, I’m Sorry – Doctor Park, the man responsible for the vaccine, now cured himself, tries to fit back into society and find work, tormented by memories of his awful deeds as a member of the undead. Matters are not helped by a beautiful young woman who keeps turning up at his apartment and stabbing him without explanation.
Pain Killer – Effectively a kind of pre-end credit sequence revolving around what appears to be the writing of the script by a man becoming a zombie. Sadly, there are no English subtitles for the brief segment, though since it’s only a few minutes long, this doesn’t matter too much.
As an anthology, and a particularly varied one at that, “The Neighbor Zombie” is inevitably somewhat uneven. However, whilst there is no denying that not all of the shorts are entirely effective, the film as an overall package works very well, and succeeds in providing a number of new takes on the same old zombie themes. Though the stories are essentially unconnected vignettes, with the exception of the pretty needless final segment, they fit together well, and have a neat sense of flow and cohesion.
The four directors are all obviously knowledgeable genre fans, and this really shows up on screen and in the writing, with the film playing with and adding to, rather than simply spoofing the time-honoured conventions of the form. Through this, the film manages to attain the notoriously difficult comedy horror balance, being funny, frightening and occasionally even moving, in its own demented way. The film also does well in terms of social commentary, offering up some pretty telling insights into modern Korean society and governance through the cleverly charted progression of the zombie plague and its after effects. Similarly, the film is actually quite humanistic in its own way, with a winning sense of morality and conscience, though thankfully without being sentimental or pushing it too hard.
On another level, the film again shows its genre credentials by really delivering the gore goods. Most of the stories have plenty of blood and viscera being liberally thrown around, and although the low budget does show at times, the effects are generally good, and the film wins big plus points for mainly relying on old school makeup rather than cheap looking CGI. The film on the whole makes excellent use of its resources, and whilst the directors are not quite able to bring to life a full scale undead apocalypse or to really put together explosive action scenes, they nevertheless do a pretty good job of suggesting them through their limited sets and smaller set pieces.
This level of craftsmanship, coupled with its undeniable air of conviction more than make up for the budgetary deficiencies of “The Neighbor Zombie”, and the film is a worthy effort that stands out from the ever growing global horde of similar productions. Pretty unique and thoughtful in its own way, the film certainly deserves to find a wider audience, and genre fans and zombie aficionados should find a warm spot in their hearts for it.
Young-Geun Hong, Hoon Ryoo, Oh Young-Doo (director) / Young-Geun Hong, Hoon Ryoo, Oh Young-Doo (screenplay)
CAST: Ji-hun Bae