One would think the zombie movie would be completely played out by now. There have been countless films about the walking dead in a variety of genres (not just horror) since White Zombie introduced the walking dead into our cinematic lexicon in 1932. There have been zombie comedies, zombie romances, zombies in the apocalypse, and zombie musicals. Again, you would think by now there’d be nothing new to say about zombies. Zombie for Sale proves you wrong. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the genre, but it puts a new spin on it, taking it in a new, interesting direction.
Take black comedies about the underclass and desperate families like Parasite or The Host, mix in a dash of romance, a splash of social commentary, loads of style, plenty of references to other zombie films, and just enough gore and you have director Lee Min-jae’s 2019 South Korean film Zombie for Sale. It is a lot of fun to watch if just a tad overlong and not quite as clever as it thinks it is.
In the sleepy town of Poongsan live the Park family who run a broken-down gas station but make a living by intentionally causing accidents on a backwater road then fixing the broken autos at jacked up prices. One day, Jjong-Bi (Ga-ram Jung) comes stumbling into town. He’s got the zombie look and the zombie walk but he doesn’t seem all that vicious. He tries to bite several townspeople but they easily shoo him away. A dog chases him out to the Park’s gas station where he hides for a while in their garage. He only comes out when he hears Man-duk (Park In-hwan), the patriarch, mucking about. Finally, the zombie gets his chompers into a victim, but instead of turning him into one of the undead, Man-duk awakes to find himself looking, and feeling, about twenty years younger.
The eldest son, Min-gul (Kim Nam-gil), who has just returned home after getting fired from his job in the city, has an idea. If this zombie’s bite turned Dad younger, why not exploit the little undead guy and sell his services to the townsfolk? The bites sell like hotcakes. Everybody lines up to get bitten and hopefully turn younger. It works and the poor family is suddenly flush with cash.
Things go good until the youngest sibling Hae-gul (Lee Soo-kyung) starts to feel sorry for the poor zombie. She gives him a haircut, some clean clothes and a little makeup for those unseemly scars. They take a walk through the lettuce patch (which surprisingly looks a lot like brains). But before the film turns into an odd romance, things turn ugly – turns out this fountain of youth bite really is a zombie virus, just slow reacting. Suddenly, all those people are turning into flesh-eating deadites which leads us to an action-packed, and firework-filled, finale.
Lee Min-jae gives the proceedings plenty of style and quirky moments (one scene has the characters yelling in slow motion with little conversation bubbles popping out of their mouths). He proves a master of composition as well with a lot of the film’s best comedy coming from antics in the background. There isn’t quite enough story to fill up the film’s 112 minute run time and I found myself ready for it to be over about 15 minutes before the credits rolled. It is enjoyable enough to watch but not nearly as funny as I wanted it to be nor as clever as it thinks it is. But it gets extra points for taking the rather tired zombie genre into new directions.
Arrow Video presents Zombie for Sale with a 1080p transfer and an uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio options. Extras include new English subtitles, an audio commentary, a Q&A with the director, making-of and behind-the-scenes featurettes plus an audio essay from Pierce Conran about South Korea’s “families in peril” genre, plus the usual trailers, and full-color booklet with an essay on the film.
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