Draggy plot weighs down Joseon zombie film

Hyun Bin plays Prince Ganglin in a zombie flick set in the Joseon dynasty.
Hyun Bin plays Prince Ganglin in a zombie flick set in the Joseon dynasty.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

REVIEW / PERIOD HORROR

RAMPANT (NC16)

122 minutes/Opens today/2.5 stars

The story: Prince Ganglin (Hyun Bin) has returned to Joseon to find that the local villagers are infected with a mysterious virus. When the virus appears to turn them into zombies, or night demons as the people call them, he is forced to try to save the kingdom. Meanwhile, war minister Kim (Jang Dong-gun) is threatening to overthrow the royal family.

Following the mega success of zombie flick Train To Busan (2016), it was only a matter of time before another South Korean film-maker made a blockbuster movie about the undead.

But how can a zombie film still feel fresh when the genre has become so saturated?

Apparently, by setting the story in the Joseon dynasty, the Korean period of choice for every K-drama and K-film.

The idea is not a terrible one.

This is the first time you get to see zombies in traditional Korean costumes, all wreaking havoc on a royal court - and the scale of some of these scenes matches the grandeur of other period war films.

There are no gun shoot-outs either, just elegant swordplay and expert fist fights.

The problem here is that so much attention is spent on the period setting that the zombies often feel like an afterthought, when they really should have been crucial to the story.

Train To Busan succeeded because the zombies there had served as the main foe and the action was thrilling as the people on a single train attempted to fight them off together.

The lack of focus in Rampant, however, is apparent because director Kim Sung-hoon (Confidential Assignment, 2017) is trying to make two separate movies here at the same time - and they clearly have a hard time gelling.

The movie he kicks off with is one about the rise of the zombies, a fast-growing undead army that attempts to chew up every villager and palace maid in sight.

The other movie - which could have been done away with completely - is about court politics, what with war minister Kim's elaborate attempts to overthrow the royal family.

There are so many draggy bits of dialogue between him and the sickly king that you sometimes forget there is a zombie problem in the background.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2018, with the headline 'Draggy plot weighs down Joseon zombie film'. Print Edition | Subscribe