EZMM 2023 Day 3.1: Zombie for Sale (2019)

It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before, and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born.

For the curious, here are links to 20082009 (a bad year), 201020112012 (when we left the blog behind), 20132014201520162017201820192020, 2021 and 2022.

Here there be spoilers!

Also known as The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale, this debut feature film by director Lee Min-jae is a straight-up comedy that manages to actually be entertaining while also hitting most of the main elements you get in the zombie apocalypse genre, and it does it with an upbeat, happy ending, too! It doesn’t quite hit the highs of something like Shawn of the Dead (but what does, really?), and yet still manages to be highly watchable, even throwing some romantic comedy into the mix.

The basic set-up is standard. A local bio-tech company is under fire for working to create an insulin substitute and they may be commandeering homeless people and poor students to experiment on. It’s possible that these experiments aren’t going as well as the firm’s public relations would argue. From here we are introduced to our titular zombie, played by Jung Ga-ram, as he climbs up and out of some sort of pipe leading to what we can imagine is an underground testing facility. We have to imagine, because this low-budget film has its sights set on other storytelling targets.

He’s wrapped in plastic, and after ripping it off, our zombie shambles off into the countryside of a small South Korean village. He’s pretty ineffective as a flesh-eating monster, and instead is mistaken for a hobo by some old gossiping ladies and a trio of stone-throwing kids. After being chased around by a huge dog, he ends up in the public restroom where the elderly patriarch Man-duk (Park In-hwan) of that “Odd Family” ends up finding him – after trying to cheat at cards with the other oldies – and gets a minor bite on his head.

Back home, his hapless family is trying to run a mostly dead gas station business, relying on sabotaging travelers’ cars and then overcharging them for repairs after “luckily” showing up with the family tow truck. Father’s grown son (Jeong Jae-yeong) is a bit dim, and his pregnant wife Nam-Joo (Uhm Ji-won) is the brains behind the business. His sister Hae-Gul (Lee Soo-kyung) is a social outcast and his urbane brother (Kim Nam-gil) has just returned after losing his big city job.

Through a series of humorous events, the zombie, eventually christened Jjong-Bi by Hae-Gul, ends up tied up in their barn, and after they figure out that he’s not just a disgusting hobo but is actually a zombie (after a quick viewing of Train to Busan on their phone), they realize that they need to quarantine good old dad. But when he wakes up after a feverish night looking younger and healthier – signified by his powerful urination! – they realize that they can charge the elderly locals to get restorative bites.

It’s a totally original spin on the genre and leads to some pretty hilarious moments that I won’t spoil here. But needless to say, things eventually take a dark turn, and the final act is in a full-on zombie apocalypse setting that has an equally surprising and kind of gross pay-off in the conclusion.

Overall, Zombie for Sale is a pretty solid entry in a genre where all too often, attempts at comedy are restrained to throwing absurdly over-the-top gore at the screen. When the comedic focus is on wacky characters, it’s a lot harder to pull off. Thanks to some very nice cinematography, quality performances by everyone involved, and some exceptional music choices for the soundtrack, Zombie for Sale manages to achieve the extremely difficult accomplishment of being funny, touching, gross, and romantic all at the same time.

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