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Neighbor Zombie, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Stories from the Korean front of the Zombie Crisis."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Zombie movies have the potential to be a dime a dozen, and not just because they can be made on a shoestring budget, as this South Korean anthology film is. What makes it stand out from the crowd? Well, technically, being Korean; it may not be the first of the sub-genre to come from there as was claimed, but it's a rare example. More interestingly, the anthology format allows the film's four directors to tell a set of smaller stories that have a larger scope.

After some opening narration that sets the scene, we get two stories from Oh Young-doo. The first, "Crack", is unfortunately the film's worst entry; I think it's aiming for gory slapstick, but it just winds up being nearly incomprehensible. Things improve a great deal with "Runaway", in which a girl (Ha Eun-jeong) hiding her infected boyfriend (Bae Yong-geun) in her apartment confronts how untenable such a situation can be - sure, the infected can somewhat keep it together as long as they remain calm and resist the craving for human flesh, but that's awful hard when every normal person is trying to kill you. This one is also played as broad comedy, but that turns out to be a shrewd way to establish the film's ground rules - primarily that the outbreak did not lead to instant barbarity, at either the individual or societal level. It's a bit uneven, but the soft sell is much more elegant that and exposition dump, and it's a sign of good things to come.

Hong Young-Guen is up next with "Mother, I Love You", a much darker take on similar ideas. Here, Jeong-ah (Lim Jeong-seon) is also sheltering an infected person, her mother (Kim Yeo-jin-i), who is pretty much all the way gone. It's going all right, until a government inspector (No Jae-hwan) discovers what's up. It's a grim little story about what people will stoop to in order to protect those that they love, with a few moments that are not for the squeamish.

Things get more fun in "Age of Vaccine", Ryu Hoon's contribution. The biologist who inadvertently created the plague is rumored to have completed a vaccine, which both Doctors Without Borders and the pharma company that unleashed the plague through negligence are racing for. This is an action piece, with firefights, betrayals, and plentiful martial arts. The action is quite good for such a low-budget independent film, and the fast pace is a welcome change from the more personal stories without dropping the intensity.

Finally, we have "After That, I'm Sorry", directed by Jung Youn-jung. The zombie plague is over, mostly, although former Bridel pharma employee Bae Yong-geun (the actor of the same name, though not necessarily the same character as in "Runaway") cannot escape his part in the events of the outbreak - whether at job interviews or out in the world. Plus, there's Ok Soo-dong (Seo Yoon-ah), who blames him for the death of her parents. What starts out as an interesting meditation on who can be held responsible for events that happen in times of crisis becomes a tense hostage situation, one where the outcome is always far from certain and and which does a fine job of getting audiences to take a look at their zombie-movie assumptions.

That's a neat trick, one of several that the movie has up its sleeve. It is unusually cohesive for an anthology movie - although I'm not sure how the writing went; the four directors are listed as screenwriters, but it's not clear whether they wrote their individual segments or the film as a whole, at least not for those of us who don't read Korean. While shot on a very low budget and at limited locations - including a filmmaker's home - the segments are all quite polished. The make-up and action, for instance, are high quality. Some of the bits setting the situation up look a bit cobbled together, but given the meager resources, that's easily forgivable.

"The Neighbor Zombie" isn't the typical zombie movie, which is fine; those have become rather rote. It's more ambitious and more intimate, and thus a whole lot more interesting.

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originally posted: 07/21/10 15:41:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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