How do I even begin?
I went into director ALAN LO’S epic ZOMBIOLOGY with little to no expectations, save my past experiences with Asian horror/sci-fi/fantasy…the last encounter having worked out pretty well, considering it was another zombie thriller from South Korea, TRAIN TO BUSAN. This mostly Hong Kong production does share quite a few similarities, but diverges into SHAUN OF THE DEAD-country more often than not.
Best buddies Lone (MICHAEL NING) and Yeung (LOUIS CHEUNG) are ne’er-do-wells caught up in their dead-end jobs as mascots in panda outfits. The one thing that keeps them going is their almost fanatical devotion to their favorite comic book/anime series, in which they can imagine themselves as their favorite superheroes, vanquishing evil wherever it raises its ugly chicken head. No, you didn’t just misread that – the foe that their favorite heroes faces down is basically…a giant chicken.
But the lines blur between anime fantasy and real life, when the chicken monster suddenly materializes on the streets of Hong Kong, emitting some kind of evil energy that transforms people into zombies who are taken over by it. And do we want to talk about the sentient eggs this thing lays, which have the power to blow people’s heads off? Oh, yeah…it’s that kind of a wild ride.
But in between the insanity, we get glimpses of why Lone especially needs the escapism of the world of his anime heroes. Lone’s father, Wing (ALEX MAN) has just been released from jail as the story begins. He was serving a sentence for supposedly causing the car crash that maimed Lone’s stepmother, Shan (CARRIE NG), a once-celebrated star of Cantonese opera, who has secluded herself in the run-down opera house since her husband’s incarceration. And if having THAT drama in his life wasn’t enough, his ex-girlfriend has a son who looks suspiciously like him, although the denial of Lone as the father becomes a running joke. He and Yeung both are crushing madly on Yit (CHERRY NGAN), Shan’s niece who is deeply into the paranormal enough to consider herself a “ghost hunter” of sorts. Long’s heart, however, really belongs to Shiuan (VENUS WONG), the beautiful kickass heroine featured in their beloved anime series.
Got all of that? No? Just wait until the wild ride REALLY starts, once the zombies begin to appear en masse.
Underneath all of the action-packed, blood-drenched trappings, there appears to be a message that attempts to condense the entire film down to a metaphor about facing your greatest fears no matter what, and doing so by building a strong belief in one’s self. Or at least that was my take-away from it. Some cultural references and nuances more than likely got lost in translation, especially if you’re not familiar with the book upon which this movie is based, (and I am definitely not.)
The anime sequences are as dynamic and incredibly executed as you could hope for…in fact, at a couple of points I kind of wished that the entire thing had been done as anime. The gore quotient is surprisingly light, though the butt-kicking trio of Long, Yeung and Shiuan has some really cool weapons to take the undead flesh-munchers apart with.
If I had a huge problem with the movie, it wasn’t the script, although it tells a story that tries to be a dozen things at once, (a buddy comedy movie, a zombie picture, a family drama, an anime blowout AND a psychological character study). It was the cinematography, which though was pretty good most of the time, became unfocused and jittery during the fight sequences. It would have been nice to be able to get a better idea of who was doing what kind of damage where. Though in the shots where you COULD tell, it was pretty damn great!
And it has to be said that the ending may prove to be especially problematic, when the main indication is that – shades of David Lynch! – throughout the entire story, we have been at the mercy of an ‘unreliable narrator’ in Lone all along. Or HAVE we? (Stick around for the little teaser at the end as the credits run, to screw with your perception of the story even more!)
Best way to view this is to take the advice of the sub-title: ENJOY YOURSELF TONIGHT. Regardless of where it takes you, just go with it and don’t expect the Far East version of 28 DAYS LATER, or even another TRAIN TO BUSAN, and you may find that you like it just fine. Two-and-a-half stars out of five for ZOMBIOLOGY.