ALL OF US ARE DEAD (2022) – KOREAN ZOMBIE THRILLER IS DEVASTATINGLY HAUNTING

All of Us Are Dead (Korean: Jigeum Uri Hakgyoneun; lit. Now at Our School) is a South Korean coming-of-age zombie apocalypse horror streaming television series. It stars Park Ji-hu, Yoon Chan-young, Cho Yi-hyun, Lomon, Yoo In-soo, Lee Yoo-mi, Kim Byung-chul, Lee Kyu-hyung, and Jeon Bae-soo. The series mostly takes place at a high school in South Korea as a zombie apocalypse suddenly breaks out and threatens the safety of the students. A failed science experiment results in a local high school being overrun with zombies, and the trapped students struggling to survive. With no food or water, and communication cut-off by the government, they must use equipment around the school to protect themselves in the midst of a battleground or they will become part of the infected. This is basically the outlier plot of the show. But what makes it different is that it is more of a coming-of-age story, where students are forced to leave their childhood behind much sooner than they expected.

The story is nothing special – because his son is being bullied, a science teacher at a Korean high school creates a virus designed to give strength but instead turns his son , and later his wife into a flesh-eating zombie. He keeps testing, even doing so on laboratory mice at the high school, where one sleepy girl who wanders into the room, gets accidentally bitten by the lab rat and slowly turns into a zombie who later starts infecting the whole school. The situation spirals out of control and ends up affecting the whole city and possibly South Korea in potential future seasons. It begins as do most zombie thrillers – with a rogue scientist and a curious idiot. Zombies in AOUAD (All Of Us Are Dead) share the same flesh eating traits of their George A Romero and Walking Dead brethren but also have some of the characteristics from their 28 Days Later relatives – i.e. to be able to run really fast.

However, AOUAD is different in terms of how the zombie bites/virus affects different people. A majority are obviously turned into flesh eating zombies but a select few become hum-bies (or half human/half zombie) – these have the cravings of a zombie along with super smell, super hearing and super strength but also retain a higher brain allowing them to think and interact with humans. Sadly the three people who we see getting these powers, turn out to be extremely annoying and frustrating thus making these powers utterly useless. One is an extreme asshole, who is a bully at school, another is a girl who has been bullied to an extent that she wants to end her life but instead becomes powerful and last is the class president who is an integral part of the human survivors group but only seems to use her special powers to say “RUN” every time the shit hits the fan.

While it follows all the traits of the zombie dramas and does complete justice to the genre, at the core of it, AOUAD talks about the regressive culture of bullying. The purpose that the creator creates the virus in the first place is to give his son the confidence. Reason, the poor chap is a shy boy who has been brutally bullied in his school. The aim is to give him the rage so he could protect himself. It is about a father who wants his son to be strong but ends up creating a monster of a situation. And it’s not just him, but several other suffering bullying in the school.

The 12 episode show has more to present than just violence, zombies, flesh, and blood. While bullying is the main conflict, the background of the show is richer. There are conflicts that are personal. Be it the choice to go out and find a missing friend or save their own lives. Or be it watching their dear one turn into zombies and also hitting them at one point. Amid all of this, there is a deep social commentary. Lee Yoo-mi plays a girl who comes from the privileged class, one that lives in a plush society. She believes she deserves the biggest and the first share of everything, because she is upper class. She makes fun, rather insults a boy who belongs to the have nots and is studying on welfare funds. But at the same time she is also a victim of bullying too. But that doesn’t make her any empathetic or less greedy.

Park Ji-hu and Yoon Chan-young get the maximum screen time. The chemistry they share brings a layer of coming of age to the show. There is love but unsaid and they don’t even realise that. The complexities due to the same increase and creates a love story amid the apocalypse. But it never geos overboard and that is what is good. The two actor are amazing. Cho Yi-hyun as Nam-ra goes through a complete transformation. She is one of the strong one mentioned above and she has to portray a range of emotions. Not just as human, she also has to fight the half zombie in her and bring those emotions on her face. The actor does an effortless job.

The story of All of Us Are Dead is a violent, brutal story where the classmates of Hyosan High School’s Class 2-5 slowly watch their friends and teachers turn monstrous and do horrible things to one another. Its large cast (which eventually sprawls to include people from all of Hyosan) allows it to focus on what, specifically, is lost in such a disaster, and what is worth preserving. Through character-focused writing and a strong focus on how its cast relates to each other, All of Us Are Dead never loses its focus on people — even after they turn to zombies.

Students and teachers are rapidly infected. Some are cowardly and unwilling to help. Students who realize what’s happening (this is — thank God — a show where people know what zombies are, and even name-drop Train to Busan but somehow are dumb enough never to hit the zombies in the head) begin to suspect their friends who may have been bitten. Emergency personnel succumb to the horde. The plague spreads. It is a show that brings out the best and worst of humanity. Many incidents are extremely tragic and stay with you even after the show is over. However, the show fails in one aspect is the extremely annoying main villain played by Yoo In-soo. He is one of the leading causes of the zombie virus to be created – one of his victims was the son of the scientist who created the virus. Not only that, he also ends up plaguing the entire survivors’ group right to the very end due to his odd inability to never die no matter how many limbs are shattered. For a 12 episode show, with so many zombies to contend with, a super-powered zombie who causes havoc relentlessly is quite exhausting especially in the final episodes where he causes the death of a beloved character.

The survivors group is full of different characters – basically stereotypes of every high school class – there are the nerds, a lovable fat boy, the spoiled princess, the dashing tall guy who has girls vying for his attention, the shy but brave young lad who has a secret crush on his childhood friend but doesn’t tell her and a few oddities sprinkled here and there. Nam On-jo (Park Ji-hu) serves as a narrative protagonist who bands together with her childhood friend Lee Cheong-san (Yoon Chan-young), her crush Lee Su-hyeok (Park Solomon), and the aloof overachieving class President Choi Nam-ra (Cho Yi-hyun) among other classmates to fight zombies and school bullies alike. Director Lee JQ’s choice to cast actors “unfamiliar to the audience” pays off masterfully.

The makers also ensure that the layered storytelling does not come at the cost of high-adrenaline action scenes, jump scares and well-executed VFX gore. Mirroring the title sequence, the directors slowly descend the audience into a zombie-filled reality, and the series conveys the same visually. What starts off as a brightly-lit, vividly colourful school, eventually transforms into a nauseatingly dull place with the colour saturation dialed back, as the virus spreads. When required, the filmmakers also immerse us into the zombie experience. The cinematography during the zombie-human confrontation scenes moves fast, never quite fixating on a single character, which makes for quite unsettling viewing. It is havoc heightened for the students, as well as the audience watching, as we learn along with them, who survived and who didn’t.

Though the storyline follows a core group of students trapped in high school, we are also given glimpses of a politician scrambling to escape her office; a social media influencer trying to farm the crisis for viral content; and two police officers, mismatched in their levels of courage, racing to retrieve the antidote. These different dynamics are crafted for the series to also address multiple systemic issues. With the origin of the zombie virus itself rooted in a history of bullying, the school becomes ground zero for the show to explore social class hierarchies.

Ultimately, in a genre teeming with Hollywood’s undying need to provide the perfect post-apocalyptic male-hero zombie killer tale, South Korea has bravely put forth a story of survival. Oscillating between the alive and the undead, the show makes an impact by centering the fact that endurance doesn’t always mean strength, sometimes it is born out of repeated acts of kindness.

JAY’S VERDICT

Go ahead and catch All of Us Are Dead on Netflix right now to binge of South Korea’s latest offering in a long line of addictive Television shows and Movies.

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