Arrow Video: Zombie for Sale (2019) - Reviewed

The malleable subgenre of the undead zombies rising from the grave to stalk and eat the living is one of the most played out genres in living memory.  Ever since the resurgence of the zombie genre, jump started by Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later before George A. Romero got back into it leading up to first-person shooter videogames and eventually The Walking Dead, zombies quickly oversaturated the marketplace.  You couldn’t turn around without running into one of them.  Simply put, the genre unto itself was arguably overexposed before (for some like myself) fatigue set in.  By the time World War Z with Brad Pitt arrived, there didn’t seem to be much left the genre had to offer in the way of anything new.

That is until the South Koreans started to get into it with such smash hits as Train to Busan, the upcoming #Alive and now Arrow Video’s release of the 2019 zombie rom-com from first time director Lee Min-jae: Zombie for Sale.  Released in South Korea under the full title The Odd Family: Zombie for Sale, this screwball, cartoonish comedy might be the first zombie related film in some time to do something fresh with the concept. 

Here a mom-and-pop run gas station, overseen by the Park family, is besieged by the mysterious arrival of a cabbage-eating teenage zombie whose bite includes the curious side-effect of rejuvenating one’s youth.  That this member of the undead prefers vegetables to human flesh is the first of many detours this zombie comedy will take, upending expectations of the genre.  Much like Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar winning Parasite, the Park family quickly schemes to take advantage of their new visitor by generating business revenue out of their new visitor’s undead bite.  The moneymaking scheme works…for a while…

An oddly heartwarming comic thriller with gifted performances from the ensemble cast and a curious new take on the degrees of the zombie bite, Zombie for Sale manages to be hilarious and endearing without letting the characters off the hook as with, say, Zombieland.  Even with all of the Joe Dante inspired uses of cartoon sound effects on the soundtrack to give the whole thing a Gremlins slip-and-slide on blood and goo comic slant, the dangers presented by the zombies are very real and at times I wasn’t sure where this dysfunctional family zombie comedy was taking me. 

Shifting freely between the scary and the cute, this first-time effort is an impressive debute, shot handsomely by Cho Hyoung-rae in 2.35:1 panoramic widescreen.  Then there’s the score by Hwang Sang-jun which touches frequently on 1950s inspired ditties for increasingly satirical effect, particular when the warm tunes are offset by images of arms being bitten.  

The film of course wouldn’t work half as well without the ensemble cast of characters, particularly Jung Ga-ram as the cabbage eating zombie who treads a fine line in the role between heart throb and heart-rending terror.  Also strong is Soo Kyung-lee who takes a curious romantic interest in the new undead arrival.  Probably the funniest actor in the film is Kim Nam-gil, best known for The Fiery Priest who is either skilled in the art of taking out zombies or just an opportunistic idiot. 

For a genre that has seen as much overexposure as the zombie outbreak film, Zombie for Sale actually manages to offer something new we haven’t seen before while still serving up a delightful horror-comedy entertainment.  Fans and detractors of the genre will have a lot of fun with this one, an impish but sweet natured little dark comedy that’s equal parts astute in the portrait of the dysfunctional nuclear family and absurd in the ways it sends up the expectations of the genre.  One of the better zombie films to come around in a good while.

--Andrew Kotwicki