On the surface, the 2022 Netflix Korean series “All of Us Are Dead” seems like your average zombie apocalypse survival story, but it’s really a scathing commentary on the insidious problem of bullying that pervades Korea. Just the very first scene will have viewers boiling with anger – a bunch of high-school bullies beat the shit out their classmate, to the point of almost killing him. WTF? And while the series heavily borrows from a lot of zombie creations, it still is less bloodier and grittier than what many horror fans would be hoping for.
Let’s talk plot first. Twelve-episodes long, season one starts off with the genesis of the virus and most of the drama unfolds in Hyosan High School, ground zero of the outbreak. It takes a while for the students to figure out what is happening, but by that time, most of them are dead. The story predominantly focuses on one group trying to survive the flesh-eating monsters. “This is like Train To Busan,” one of the primary character hilariously notes. In-fact, just like in the famous Korean horror film, the zombies in ‘All of Us Are Dead’ cannot see clearly and tend to follow sounds made by humans. So if you are noisy, you are fucked. But OMG, the main set of school-students are such dumb idiots sometimes, they keep wailing and making sounds, even after figuring out that the stupid zombies get attracted to noise.
That’s not to say the series is not entertaining, it’s definitely a fun watch for horror fans. However, all the side-stories are a lot more engaging than the core student group. Jo Yi Hyun who plays ‘class president’ Nam Ra, is the most annoying of the lot, let me give you an example – there’s a scene, where for some 10-15 minutes her classmates struggle to light a fire and when they almost give up, she asks them if they would like to have her lighter. It’s a miracle nobody attempts to strangle her to death right there. Then there’s Park Solomon, who plays athlete (and former bully) Lee Soo Hyuk and gets a lot of heroic scenes. Unfortunately, he is sort of reduced to a puppy-eyed teen in love in the second-half of the show. Park Ji-Hoo and Yoon Chan Young play cute-sy childhood friends Ohn Jo and Cheong San. Lim Jae Hyeok as their friend Dae Soo stands out in his hilarious bits, providing some good laughs – like a demonstration of how the trapped kids should pee & poop.
Some other members of the support cast that shine are Lee Eun Seam as the punkish Mi Jin, who claims being a high-school senior is more nightmarish than living through a zombie apocalypse. She is probably right, because most of her fellow-students/teachers/adults are evil creatures that can hurt you in a 1000 more ways than loser zombies who are just out for some human meat. Then there’s Jeon Bae Soo who plays hero firefighter/father Nam So Ju, who tries to get to Hyosan High School after doing his duty of saving a high-profile politician; Lee Hyu Kyung plays Song Jae Ik, a detective with the heart of gold, who gets stuck with cowardly cop Nam Yong Pi, but the pair’s sub-plot of trying to get some important information to the military is fun. Yoo In Soo as the antagonist Gwi Nam gets a meaty part – he is a bully, who turns into a zombie and yet manages to retain his wits and terrorizes the main group relentlessly throughout the show. “Why does this bastard never die?” asks one character, the viewers are made to wonder the same.
As far as the scary quotient is concerned, the bullying in the series is way more disturbing than all the death, mayhem and blood-fest caused by zombies. Be prepared for some gory scenes, but they aren’t likely to keep you up at night. Like the series ‘The Walking Dead’, here too, the makers try to show how conflict within a group can turn out to be more challenging than fighting zombies, but they are not able to make it as tense and gripping. But here’s where the makers of ‘All Of Us Are Dead’ gain brownie points – they have a sub-plot depicting the Korean military and Government’s efforts to systematically carry out rescue operations and contain/annihilate those infected. It’s brilliantly done. In most apocalypse-themed content, we get very superficial glimpses of how officials handle the situation, and in many cases – a zombie outbreak leads to the quick collapse of government machinery, but not in ‘All Of Us Are Dead’, at least not in season 1.
There’s an intriguing back story of how the virus came to be. A former pharmaceutical employee turned science teacher (Kim Byun Chul has just the right amount of madness for this role) is responsible for creating the unpredictable virus that quickly mutates and manifests in different ways. Some clever/comical scenes of how netizens react to the news of a zombie breakout in a Korean district are peppered throughout the show. Like a ‘influencer’ arriving in Hyosan to investigate if there’s any truth to the stories and getting cornered by a bunch of kindergarten kiddie zombies. All of this he live-streams (obviously), to hilarious live comments, most of whch applaud him for his ‘acting’. One just wishes there was a sub-plot with a pack that kicks some serious zombie-butt; especially since they do make space for 4-5 parallel stories.
Production-wise, this is a brilliantly made show, spread over multiple locations. One can see that Netflix did not hold back on the purse-strings. However, the makers fail to push the envelope in the Zombie genre and waste a lot of potential. Half the scenes lack a sense of emergency and when a question is posed to someone, they brood for 10 seconds before responding…. it’s a zombie outbreak you little shits, not some emo-romantic drama. And the last episode has the kind of climax that had me screaming “these dumb kids deserve to die!”. But it ends with a cliffhanger, so I guess I will be watching Season 2… if there is one.
It’s a 7/10 from me.
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Episode 40 – Interesting Zombie Tropes to Watch Out