Vinegar Syndrome: Bio Zombie (1998) - Reviewed


Photo courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome

Wilson Yip's Bio Zombie (1998) begins on a snarky note--it appears like the audience is watching a bootlegged version of the film, complete with theatergoers' scathing commentary. Media pirating was rampant around this time, and sad to say, as a young fan of Asian cinema in the late '90s and early '00s, I partook in many a bootleg DVD and VCD. The mainstream studios didn't think there was a market for Asian films in the West and made no effort to import and translate titles.

We meet our intrepid protagonists Woody Invincible (Jordan Chan) and Crazy Bee (Sam Lee), a pair of petty thieves working at a local VCD ship inside an arcade mall. They spend their days ripping off customers, thinking about sex, and planning crimes. These dudes aren't winning any awards for heroism, but their goofy charm and general ineptitude make them endearing. Their incompetence leads to a series of events where a bioweapon in the form of a soft drink is introduced into the mall's infrastructure. The soft drink contains a chemical that turns people into zombies! Now there are zombies loose in the mall, which never goes well.

Photo courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome

Similarities to Romero films aside, Yip's take on zombies is more playful and zanier, only transitioning into a grimmer affair in the last act. Aesthetically, the mall in Bio Zombie is way more colorful, filled with neon signs and cluttered storefronts. It starkly contrasts the posh and refined mall in Dawn of the Dead (1978), filled with expensive luxury goods. Whereas Dawn of the Dead was a pointed critique of consumerism, Bio Zombie isn't concerned with all that social commentary; it's just here to have a good time. Yip mixes a myriad of styles and influences from Romero to video games and keeps the pacing fast and entertaining.

The idea of zombies as an affront to nature is interesting, and that concept is reinforced thematically here. Invincible and Bee are selling VCDs, which are low-quality versions of official releases, just as zombies themselves are a poor imitation of humans. They look like the person they once were, but their emotions are gone, replaced only by an insatiable urge to consume. While the zombies are played off for laughs at the beginning, with the dorky Sushi Boy (Emotion Cheung) still trying to woo his crush even after he has turned, as more of the main characters get killed or turned, it gets harder to find things humorous. Even though the main characters are essentially jerks, they are still human. Bio Zombie inevitably barrels towards a nihilistic ending that leaves the viewer empty and melancholy.

--Michelle Kisner

Photo courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome

Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray:

- Region Free Blu-ray

- Studio supplied master with additional restoration performed by VS

- Presented in both its original Cantonese language soundtrack with newly translated English subtitles and a Mandarin language dub track *

- Brand new commentary track with film historian Frank Djeng

- "Bio Zombie" - an interview with co-writer/director Wilson Yip by Frédéric Ambroisine

- "Video Games, Contaminated Lucozade and Human Sushi" - a video essay by film historian Chris O’Neill

- Alternate Ending of Bio-Zombie

20-page booklet with essay by author Rod Lott and film programmer / writer Ariel Esteban Cayer

Reversible sleeve artwork

Newly translated English subtitles