I played a game of movie roulette with #Alive, the Korean zombie flick from writer/director Il Cho. The poster I saw shows the film’s main character, Oh Joon-woo (Ah-In Yoo), leaning off of his apartment’s balcony with his phone on a selfie stick taking a sweet pic for his Insta. That, combined with the hashtag in the title, led me to some erroneous conclusions about that plot. But, that’s okay. That happens when one goes into a flick blind.
The poster (shown below) and the title led me to believe this was a black comedy about a teen in Seoul who finds himself amidst a zombie outbreak, and becomes a worldwide phenomenon due to his posts from the infected area.
Horror comedies have been South Korea’s stock in trade for a while, now. They’ve been doing it so well that, until they saw it, many people believed that Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, last year’s Best Picture winner, was a black comedy horror flick. We’ve come to expect nothing from Korean cinema but irreverent, bloody horror. So much so that this film, which is played serious for the vast majority of its 98 minutes, can seem like a downer, even when it’s no more so than countless other zombie flicks.
Joon-woo wakes up, just like any other day in the megalopolis of Seoul. After his family leaves to run errands or whatnot, he does some online gaming and streaming, until there’s a zombie outbreak in the city. From the living room picture window, he watches as his apartment complex descends into chaos, violence, and blood. People are fleeing for their lives, chased by zombies hungry for their flesh. It’s a movie come to life…in a movie, I guess. Anyway, this scene, which used many, many enthusiastic extras, lets us know that the world outside of Joon-woo’s window has changed. It’s all death outside, and, once the apartment door is barricaded, all safe inside.
Over the course of weeks, Joon-woo stays in the apartment, subsisting on meager rations of energy bars and cheap ramen (so much sodium!). Occasionally, he films a video and posts it to whatever service he uses. Presumably, this is where the title of the film comes from, but Joon-woo’s activity on social media isn’t explored beyond when he makes his short videos. Viewers never see him reading comments or interacting with his followers, nor do we see the response his videos garner online. I think that’s a missed opportunity. Not because of the expectations I had going into this flick, but because it makes for a more unique story than what we have.
Alive is not a bad film, or a mediocre one. Don’t think that from the criticism above. This is a nasty, swift, and brutal zombie flick, checking off three of the most important boxes in the subgenre. It’s just very obvious that it could have been more. Not only that, the title makes it seem as if the filmmakers and the producers knew that.
So, instead of something innovative, something that captures the current zeitgeist of online fame, Il Cho and company treat viewers to merely a good zombie flick. How dare they?