The zombie genre has a broad tonal spectrum. Their stories can be a heartbreaking family drama, an arse-kicking action movie, or a real horror film that could also be narrated with explicit gore, jump scares or a true lugubrious atmosphere.
Well-defined genres - even ones as grotesque and gutsy as zombie movies - have long been fertile ground for comedy. A codified set of tropes is the perfect place to play around with expectations and catch an audience off-guard. And if that surprise can involve someone’s innards becoming outtards, all the better.
The zombie comedy is most easily associated with the hit movies Edgar Wright’s ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and Ruben Fleischer’s ‘Zombieland’ and Shinchiro Ueda’s recent ‘One Cut of the Dead’... and less easily with complete duds like ‘Poultrygeist: Night Of The Chicken Dead’. Factor in the massive impact that Yeon Sang-ho’s ‘Train to Busan’ has had in South Korea and it’s surprising that we haven’t seen more zombie comedy’s clawing their way out of the country.
Directed by Lee Min-jae, ‘The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale’ is an amusing satire about family values and how one family’s money-hungry entrepreneurship puts everyone in danger and nearly leads to the end of the world.
Human Bio, the biggest pharmaceutical company in Korea, conducts illegal experiments on humans. One day, a test for a new diabetes medication goes wrong. These first few minutes of the film begin stylishly enough with a series of local radio announcements being played, detailing the disastrous outbreak that’s threatening to run rampant nationwide. The “Odd Family” of the title are your classic gang of fringe-dwelling hustlers (a South Korean cinema trope, see: Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’ and Kim Ji-woon’s ‘The Quiet Family’) running a gas station in an isolated village of Poongnam in the countryside. They seem to make cash by puncturing the tyres of motorists and charging them exorbitant fees for towing and repairs.
Into this quiet town stumbles a boyband-looking zombie (played by Jung Ga-ram). Eventually, Park Man-duk (Park In-Hwan, ‘Thirst’), the head of the household, captures the ineffectual creature and imprisons it in the family garage, but not before being bitten on the head. Once they figure out that they’ve captured a zombie (by watching a clip of ‘Train to Busan’ on a smartphone), the family members each attempt to overcome their fear of their new guest. Similar to Jonathan Levine’s ‘Warm Bodies’, the youngest daughter Hae-gul (Lee Soo-kyung, ‘Coin Locker Girl’) takes a liking to the zombie, nicknames it “Zzongbie, the pet” and trains it to each cabbage smeared in ketchup.
Her brothers are scared at first but discover that anyone bitten by Zzongbie becomes younger, healthier and seemingly immortal. The family decides to turn this into a business opportunity (like Alejandro Brugués’ ‘Juan of the Dead’), and begin selling rejuvenating zombie bites to the village elders who are having problems with their wizened junk. Eldest son Joon-gul (Jung Jae-young, ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’) helps with his father’s money-making scheme in order to support his unsmiling, pregnant wife Nam-joo (Uhm Ji-won). Min Geol (Kim Nam-gil, ‘Memoir of a Murderer’) is the middle child in the family, a recently unemployed university graduate who looks to profit even further by selling their newfound fountain of youth to a large corporation. Their back and forth banter and weird antics of the eccentric family provide the majority of the laughs and helps the movie feel somewhat fresh despite recycling ideas we’ve seen time and time again.
The family decides to turn their situation into a business opportunity, and begin selling rejuvenating zombie bites to the village elders who are having problems with their wizened junk.
The first half of ‘The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale’ takes its time as the strained Park family dynamics are carefully aligned, as Hye-gul and Zzongbie begin their unlikely courtship. There is real tangible chemistry between the family members and you get an inclination of a genuine affection amidst the family squabbles. All the main characters an authentically likeable and you will find yourself rooting for this unconventional family unit, no matter how absurd their situation gets. This blend of silly comedy and pathos keeps the film trundling along nicely until events take a turn that the family did not expect, and it turns out that their latest scam may have consequences on a national scale.
The second half is the epitome of chaotic, literally and figuratively. Lee steers clear of blood and gore, instead playing for laughs with a number of beautifully staged set pieces, not least a wedding ceremony for one of Man-duk’s newly rejuvenated homies.
The cinematography by Cho Hyoung-rae and editing isn’t overly flashy but, alongside some impressive gory makeup and effects, they help to set the mood and pace of the film perfectly well.
Korean comedies are known for their quirkiness, and ‘The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale’ combines this with a set of principal characters so wilfully obnoxious that it would be difficult not to like them. While the film is not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, it is an enjoyable take on an oversaturated sub-genre. If you’re seeking a lightweight and absurd comedy, then this film might just tickle your funny bone with its eccentric characters and plot. If you’re after something with more hardcore horror elements or a po-faced message, you might be in for disappointment.