Eye For Film >> Movies >> Gangnam Zombie (2023) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Back in 2016, Ji Il-ju had a regular supporting role in popular South Korean drama series Hello, My Twenties! Its title barely applied to him then and he’s a long way from it now, yet a certain type of audience perception can stick, and the energy and charm which he brings to Lee Soo-sung’s action comedy just about sees him convince as a young man just out of college, trying to make his living as part of a struggling start-up which creates YouTube videos. Also a former taekwondo champion, his character, Hyun-seok, has fully absorbed that sport’s philosophy of trying to live a responsible, emotionally controlled life, but he’s about to be plunged into a situation in which it’s the other side of his martial skills which everybody will depend on.
It begins with a robbery in which one of the thieves is bitten by an infected animal, a curious sub-plot which never gets fleshed out but duly leads to the robber staggering around the streets, behaving in increasingly odd ways, followed by a gaggle of excitable strangers eager to capture the action on their phones. There perhaps a bit of social commentary in the fact that no-one makes a serious effort to help him, but that’s about as deep as the film gets, despite the satirical promise of its title. We are in Gangnam when things start to go seriously wrong, but we don’t get to explore it, instead spending almost all our time inside the shopping mall on whose sixth floor the business which Hyun-seok works for is based.
There’s some typically Korean broad comedy based around this business, along with some uncomfortable observations. The boss is a figure of fun when he’s hiding from the landlady because the rent is overdue, but less so when he’s putting his arm around employee Min-jeong (Park Ji-yeon) and leaning in unnecessarily close. She takes it in her stride, seeing it as an unfortunate but commonplace part of working life. Hyun-seok, who has a shy crush on her, finds that harder. She’s no looking for a hero, but when the mall starts to fill up with zombies, she has the good sense to stick close to his side, and gradually develops the confidence to start fighting for herself.
Once the action starts, there isn’t a whole lot more to the film. Ji delivers some impressive moves and there are a few nice set pieces, so it’s entertaining enough, but there’s a real shortage of ideas which might distinguish it from the literally hundreds of other zombie films now out there. The possibilities offered by Gangnam culture, heavily satirised elsewhere, are ignored to the point where one wonders if the title was a last-minute addition. The various landscapes to be found within the mall are reasonably well used, but as so many films have shared that setting, it doesn’t help much.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with this film. Ji achieves the difficult task of bringing charisma to a nice guy lead, and Park manages to make her character more than just a sidekick or love interest, but they’re let down by the slenderness of the plot. You may well enjoy watching it, but it’s doubtful that it will stick in your mind.Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2023