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Odd Family: Zombie on Sale, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Wants to be three different zombie movies, all of them kind of screwy."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Zombie movies are especially prone to running together as you see enough of them; like the undead creatures themselves, they've mostly got the same symptoms and eventually wind up breaking through as they arrive in a horde. I've probably seen dozens in the past couple decades just at genre festivals like this, and many of the ones that stick out come from South Korea. That's not necessarily surprising; lots of good genre film comes out of the Korean Peninsula, and the emphasis on black comedy is just the thing to send these movies in weird directions. "The Odd Family" may not be in the category of "Train to Busan" or "The Neighbor Zombie", but it's at least different enough to remember.

The pharma company that created the zombie virus seems to have done a pretty good job of covering it up as things start, but one barrel containing a victim/vector (Jung Ga-ram) falls out near the town of Poongsan and starts wandering around. He crosses paths with one family in particular, the one that lives above the gas station but mostly runs tow truck scams because they can't afford to pay their suppliers. That mostly falls on older brother Joon-Gul (Jung Jae-Young), who runs the place with pregnant wife Nam-Joo (Uhm Ji-Won); brother Min-Gul (Kim Nam-Gill) is returning from the city where he has failed to make anything of himself, while kid sister Hae-Gul (Lee Soo-Kyung) is burying another rabbit because she has the absolute worst luck with pets. The siblings' widower father, Man-Deok (Park In-Hwan) lives in a trailer out back and dreams of visiting Hawaii. He's the one that gets bit, but contrary to what usually happens, he seems to become energized and healthy. Once the family figures out how that happened, the see a way to make enough money to open the station back up, since all of Man-Deok's friends notice the spring in his step.

Writer/director Lee Min-Jae often seems to be trying to do too much and not really going all-in on any of it for much of the movie; every character has an angle and things going on but not necessarily much room to do anything. It's the sort of horror-comedy that would maybe be much better served by narrowing down the one thing it wants to lampoon and concentrating on that, but it's got to be tough to throw any of your zombie comedy ideas out when you'll probably only ever get to make one. Lee spends most of the movie on eccentric gags that play into the family members' mercenary impulses, mostly pretty good, and seldom wearing out their welcome

It's being a contrast to that which allow Hae-gul to stand out and grab the center of the film. The youngest child in a family of schemers, she is trying to be more altruistic but even though she often messes up, she at least sees the zombie who wanders into the family's gas station as, if not quite boyfriend material, something like a pet, as opposed to the resource or monster the rest recognize. Actress Lee So-Kyung gives "Hey Girl" (as her brother refers to her) great outcast-among-outcasts energy, and her eccentricity is mostly allowed to just stand on its own rather than needing to push the story along. It's an enjoyable ensemble, but she's the one that stands out and makes the others work, especially Jung Ga-Ram, who gives this shambling corpse a lot of charm, and Kim Nam-Gil, whose Min-Gul is a fun, needling big brother even when he doesn't get to do much else.

The film spends a bit of time trading water until outbreak time comes, and while there are plenty of reasons to quibble with the logic at that point - the virus has an incubation period until it doesn't, and "Jong-bie" comes off as a tragic sort of sad-sack zombie compared to everyone else who turns, for example - it shifts gears very well indeed, with director Lee seeming just as comfortable with hordes as he had been with smaller, more offbeat bits of comedy. The big siege at the gas station has a lot of Tremors DNA in it (at least to American audiences; maybe that film wasn't a hit in South Korea), but that's not something to complain about in any way, and the filmmakers do a fair job of slowing down from that chaos every once in a while to focus on characters or slip a joke in.

It's a shift from one sort of Korean weird comedy to another that is not executed smoothly, but the best parts of each are such enjoyably oddball takes on standard zombie fare and the lesser aspects aren't ever bad either. It winds up somewhere between the films of Bong Joon-Ho and recent blockbuster "Extreme Job", probably closer to the latter, and while it could maybe benefit from being one or the other, it wouldn't be a South Korean movie if it weren't straddling multiple tones and genres.

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originally posted: 10/26/19 04:30:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Min-jae Lee

Written by
  Min-jae Lee
  Seo-in Jung

  Jae-yeong Jeong
  Ga-ram Jung
  Nam-gil Kim
  Soo-kyung Lee
  Ji-won Uhm

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