The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale (Zombie For Sale) – London Korean Film Festival 2019 – Film Review
The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale certainly defied my expectations as a comedic, genre-crossing zombie tale with social commentary. The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale was one of the new releases featuring within the London Korean Film Festival in 2019. Unfortunately, its title provides the greatest spoiler that there is! However, the title has now been shortened to that of ‘Zombie For Sale’ which might therefore make it more appealing for audiences. Given that Zombie for Sale features within 2020’s FrightFest in Glasgow, it should already have an appreciative audience. From now on in this review I shall refer to the film as ‘Zombie on Sale’.
Zombie films, however, are generally not my forte and so it was only in late 2019 that I finally managed to watch the renowned 28 Days Later for the first time. This meant that the parallels between the two films were instantly apparent to me as Zombie on Sale also explores that premise of chemical experimentation gone awry with wide reaching impact on humans as they become the ‘undead’. Zombie on Sale leans more towards the ‘Zom-Com’ category rather than bleak horror compared to 28 Days Later, the Living Dead and other films in this genre; therefore if you are looking for a high level of gore, you may be disappointed by this cabbage eating zombie tale.
Lee Min-Jae’s Zombie on Sale sets itself apart from a typical zombie horror and is a nuanced, moralistic tale without a clear delineation as to what constitutes good and evil. As such, there are some morally ambiguous characters! The Park family locate the zombie, after its escape from the chemical factory, however their exploitation of the zombie serves to provide a commentary on commoditisation. Zombie on Sale is Min-Jae’s first feature and it is certainly a brave undertaking providing a fresh perspective within the tried and tested zombie tropes.
The zombies of horror films are typically the instruments of evil but in Zombie on Sale these concepts are blurred and turned on their head. The Park family, despite their family values, find the allure of a ‘potion’ restoring youth via zombie bites difficult to resist and find ways to profiteer whilst harbouring the zombie. As such the motivations of some of the Park family members are not pure at all!
A simple but enjoyable plot, the comedic elements certainly propel the film with its unique approach. Combined with the good acting ensemble, Zombie on Sale is worthwhile viewing. There are slow motion shots mimicking action movies, there is the meet-cute plus references to other zombie films, with the characters even taking notes whilst watching Train to Busan in preparation for a zombie attack! A red, hooded, sweatshirt worn by the zombie is apparently a reference to the film Warm Bodies for those zombie film fans. There may have been references to other zombie films as well and so let me know in the comments which ones you discover on watching. Zombie on Sale is certainly hilarious but silly in its execution!
At times, when the camera lingers on the zombie, nicknamed Zzong-bie (a pet) by the young daughter, Hye-Gul, within the Park family, admittedly, Zzong-bie resembles a singer from a K-Pop boy group. Zzong-bie is therefore an object of desire in many ways and the camera angles zoom in and pan to illustrate this effectively. Min-Jae may therefore also be unsubtly providing that social commentary concerning the status of the entertainment industry and its connection to the ‘zombification’ of persons. There are other satirical scenes where zombies attracted by fireworks are compelled to dance and inadvertently trigger some ‘house’ music to be played by a zombie ‘DJ’, are we therefore similar to zombies in participating in club nights out? Some of those stiff zombie dance moves were certainly reminiscent of dancing moves performed by others in a club!
The Park family resort to hiding Zzong-bie within their garage, which is on the brink of failure anyway and so charging for providing sessions with the zombie provides that reversal of fortune opportunity. In contrast to all of the zombie antics, Zombie on Sale still takes that opportunity to delve into the Park family’s lifestyle and so the family dynamics are established with the patriarch of the family as the garage business owner of the family business with his sons and daughter. Equally, his prominent role within the community with regular gatherings of the men, almost ritualistic, is quickly established. There is a sense of community care that pervades Zombie on Sale. The Park family are a quirky ensemble, given their description as ‘the Odd Family’ but there are also some strong female voices unveiled, despite their relegation to domestic roles, with parallels to A Quiet Place.
Zombie on Sale skillfully manages to mock that expectation that every character in a South Korean film is a martial arts expert and subverts that genre. You will find that it is extremely difficult not to be laughing out loud at some of the absurd scenes within a Zombie on Sale but they just work and carry the film’s tonal shifts. A weaponised frying pan is quite often an example of the merger of the mundane domesticity with zombie lore and slapstick comedy which are delightful scenes to watch in a Zombie on Sale!
Zombie on Sale invites us to suspend our disbelief as some of the scenarios are quite frankly ludicrous, but it is this madcap energy permeating throughout the film that will keep you riveted and adds to its charm. Somehow, amongst all of the silliness Zombie on Sale finds the time to portray a rom-com too with a burgeoning romance! The film is bloated, as it attempts to please everyone, which results in some slow pacing. But, Zombie on Sale is an easy watch providing comic relief however it would have benefited from some sharper editing.
This quirky style of humour reverberating throughout Zombie on Sale is also present within some of the newer Korean films, such as Parasite and Extreme Job, and provides a platform for satire. Conversely, this Park family are in different social strata to their namesakes within the Oscar winning Parasite as they are the ‘have nots’. However, in another similarity to Parasite there is that exhibition of entrepreneurial flair by those who are seemingly impoverished. Many small businesses have similarly operated from a kitchen or garage and so there is a degree of social realism. Min-Jae does not reserve judgement, however, in providing that commentary regarding the irony of an impoverished family exploiting the vulnerable.
As such, all good things eventually come to an end in Zombie on Sale and the film’s tone shifts accordingly as the Park family’s luck runs out, as there are consequences to their antics, with some hilarious scenes ensuing, especially ‘that’ wedding scene. Striking long angle shots across fields and on roof tops with vibrant splashes of colour complement the slapstick antics and more typical zombie fare on screen during the second act.
Zombie on Sale is certainly not perfect, and it does not traverse the genres seamlessly, but it can be commended for its efforts, from a first time director, as an entertaining fresh take on the established zombie horror scene.