For a population currently living through a viral pandemic that is wreaking havoc on the world, zombie films feel almost a little too on the nose at this point. Take into account how it’s now clear that a good portion of the population would willingly turn themselves into zombies to avoid having to wear a mask, and the satire simply writes itself. Any writer would call the events of our current world too heavy-handed of a metaphor to work thematically, but we’re here. Luckily, it’s not all doom-and-gloom on the zombie front. Sure, you can barricade yourself in a room with a PlayStation 4 and a copy of The Last of Us: Part II, wrecking yourself emotionally, but wouldn’t you rather watch something a bit more lighthearted? I’d say we all deserve that sort of break at this point in the year. South Korea’s Zombie for Sale (기묘한 가족; also known as The Odd Family: Zombie for Sale in select territories) seeks to scratch that itch for horror lovers who just feel a bit too burnt out on depressing shit because their whole lives have become nothing but a parade of depressing shit.
The Park Family is an eclectic bunch of characters who own and operate a gas station and mechanic’s shop on the outskirts of the small town of Pungsan. With little business and even less money, their world is flipped upside down when Jjong-bi (Jung Ga-ram), a zombie created in a laboratory accident at a pharmaceutical company, comes into their midst. When the family patriarch, Man-deok (Park In-hwan), is bitten by Jjong-bi, the family and Man-deok’s elderly friends all worry for his survival, only to discover the following day that said bite has reinvigorated the aging Man-deok with newfound energy, strength, and youth. Initially hesitant to celebrate the changes, the Parks soon discover that with a high number of elderly residents, there is money to be made in the “Get a zombie to bite you to regain your youth” business, but it’s only so long before the Parks discover their plan might not have been so foolproof.
Zombie for Sale is the textbook definition of “tickling” in that the film isn’t gut-bustingly hilarious, but genuinely might be the cutest zombie film ever made. It’s a surprisingly safe, PG-13 level film that really leans into its comedy side much more than its horror one, and, in this case, it really works. This is a consistently charming and super clever little twist on the genre that, yes, is a lot more poignant in the age of Coronavirus. Sure, we are rooting for the Park family as the little guy, but the spoils of exploiting a virus for capital gain still holds consequences, no matter how funny they might be.
Zombie for Sale almost has a Stephen Chow-like quality to it in that it can go between slapstick (never to the level Chow takes it) and legitimate character drama pretty seamlessly.. This is not a film that relies on being subtle, and it’s all the better for it.
However, running at 111 minutes, Zombie for Sale does go on for quite a bit longer than its premise can really uphold. There’s a truly excellent 90-minute film found in here that is unfortunately dragged down by slow pacing and a very overlong finale. This is one of those films where there are about 12 different endings where the film could’ve cut to black and it would’ve been a successful conclusion, but it just keeps going. Sure, the actual ending is generally satisfying in the grand scheme of things, but by the time it gets there, you’ve been ready for it to arrive for a good 20 minutes. While not ruining the experience by any means, it just hampers what could be a slam-bang finale into something a bit more of a slog, keeping a super solid film from being great.
Luckily, all of the cast is game from the get go to deliver some perfectly-timed physical comedy which helps offset its pace. In particular, both Park In-hwan as the elderly patriarch Man-deok, and Uhm Ji-won as Nam-joo. the pregnant, no-nonsense wife of Man-deok’s eldest son, Joon-gul (Jun Jae-young), do great work in their comedy in the film. There’s often times a disconnect between cultures in the way they deliver comedy. Something like the American Bridesmaids to the German Toni Erdmann to the Chinese The Mermaid (directed by the aforementioned Stephen Chow) all of which showcase very different types of humor that are received differently across their respective countries. Without trying too hard to get audiences to cringe, cackle, or cry, Zombie for Sale works in providing a light, airy tone where smaller bursts of comedy can poke through at a consistent pace. There’s not one joke that stuck out as the “funniest” of them all, almost as if the entire screenplay plays as one long joke that sticks with you as a whole.
Think Shaun of the Dead meets Kung Fu Hustle and you have something somewhat akin to Zombie for Sale, but, even then, that doesn’t take into account just how pleasant the entire experience is. This is simply one of those films that permeates into your soul to leave you smiling for most of its entire runtime. Sure, that runtime is entirely too long and overstays its welcome in a super-bloated final act, but that doesn’t take away the moments of it that still entertain. It’s sometimes nice to just take a break from the world for a while, and while watching a film about a terrible virus in the midst of a terrible virus might not sound like an escape on paper, Zombie for Sale covertly fits the bill.
Available for streaming on the Arrow Video Channel in the U.K. and U.S. beginning July 1st, 2020.
Available on Blu-ray and digital in the U.S. beginning July 7th, 2020.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.