Well, that’s because – as I’ve long championed – just about anyone with a video camera and a flexible and willing cast and crew can throw together something that has the chance of (A) being worthwhile, (B) being scary, and (C) being profitable. Hollywood studios, in fact, have long profited from the simple conceit of throwing together whatever gruesome concoction they can and putting it out for a theatrical run; and that’s mostly because – for reasons we’ll probably always debate – we just love being scared silly. And because not everything that scares you necessarily scares me these storytellers are able to keep at that the business of frightening viewers until we can’t utter another scream. It’s the oldest, truest form of entertainment; and I couldn’t be any fonder than am I of it and the efforts to make things go bump in the night.
Now, that doesn’t mean I love everything I see; and I’m kinda/sorta split on my opinion of Gangnam Zombie (2023). On one level, it has about anything one should expect from a modestly produced thriller/chiller. Still – on another level completely – there’s just nothing new here. But … it has zombies … not the slow, lumbering, method-acting type but the rapid, jerk-infested, bloody-mouthed, and teeth gnashing variety. Still … it has zombies … and haven’t we been here before? And – even if we have been here before – is there nothing wrong with second helpings? Well, when you’re short a full meal, then have you honestly had enough to eat?
See what I mean?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Citizens from upscale Gangnam in Seoul start experiencing unusual and terrifying symptoms, devolving into inhuman creatures, leaving only a few survivors with the possibility to make it out alive.”
I know, I know, I know: some of you will find this nitpicking, but it’s just how I’m wired – there’s really zero explanation for where this whole incarnation of the plague originates, and that’s a weakness.
Now, that is and isn’t perfectly accurate (but I stand by it). The folks behind Gangnam Zombie apparently decided fairly early on in its conception to both tap into as well as utilize some of the common knowledge and/or internet theories regarding the recent COVID explosion that changed – for better and for worse – life as we know it. For example, there are those ‘in the know’ who allege that COVID began by someone eating a bat in a food market; and the screenwriter here (uncredited on IMDB.com) merely substituted the origin as having it evolve from a cat bite. Where did the cat obtain the original virus? Well, we don’t know, but you get the point.
In fact, about the time that these zombies started growing cat-like fangs, I realized that absolutely none of this was to be taken even remotely seriously.
Indeed, Gangnam’s central cast of mostly young adults – many of which are employed in the field of social media – are hyper-obsessed with looks and ‘likes,’ those positive thumbs up that fuel so much of today’s internet activity. Having the leads constantly on the lookout for the next web craze makes for a few laughs, but this script really reaches for the low-hanging fruit as even movie soundtrack cues can’t miss detection. Granted, once the bloodletting gets under way, the jokes do get dialed back here and there; but that doesn’t escape the sad fact that our heroic lead Hyeon-seok (played by Il-Joo Ji) and his hero’s journey ultimately winds down as the punchline to a bad joke about being bitten/unbitten by a zombie with dentures.
Still, because I appreciate Horror that both sets its expectations and delivers on those assumptions, Gangnam isn’t a total loss. It manages to utilize its ‘locked room’ approach to storytelling – George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead (1978) was rather famously staged in a shopping mall while Gangnam uses a similar construct with a retail corporate building – and does so fairly efficiently, minimizing both how far our heroes can run as well as how much chasing there might be. There’s certainly nothing grand and/or noble about any of this proceeding, but it still functionally sets some parameters and sticks to its minimalist world-building the way any story should. Everyone behaves as they should in this environment, and a bloody time is had by all.
However, I’d also be remiss if I failed to cite that Gangnam is barely – and I do mean barely – a feature. While it’s credited as having an 80-minute run-time, the narrative is constructed with an opening set-up that is also a flashback, meaning that you see this five-minute sequence twice. Given that it has about six minutes of credits at the end – along with a few minutes at the front – there’s hardly 60-minutes of story in here … and it feels like that. This would’ve worked better as a stand-alone episode of a horror anthology than it does an independent feature film. About the time the action’s truly starting, it’s all said and done … and that was a let-down.
Gangnam Zombie (2023) was produced by Lee Film and Joy N Cinema. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the reliable folks at Well Go USA Entertainment. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I found the sights-and-sounds to the feature to be very, very good. There’s some occasionally in-camera trickery – red lighting overlay and some curious fast-cutting – that helps set the mood, but it’s small potatoes in the whole affair. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? Alas, there isn’t a single one … well, except for the theatrical trailer. Sigh.
Only mildly recommended … and – even then – probably only for Horror purists.
Unfortunately, there’s not all that much new under the South Korean sun if Gangnam Zombie is any indication. I don’t mind riffs on popular themes, and that’s about the best one can say about this quick and forgettable experience. While the leads show up and turn in some respectable screen fighting against the undead and there’s the added hints about this being not all that unlike a COVID outbreak, Gangnam still suffers from a heavy ‘been there done that’ predictability, along with some remarkably unfunny attempts to spice it up with laughs. Sometimes, better off dead is, truly, better off dead.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA Entertainment provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Gangnam Zombie by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.