My exploration of Asian films and TV series on Netflix continues with the streaming service's big new Asian release this week: a Korean zombie movie. But don't celebrate yet.
Now streaming on Netflix.
Rather than zombies,Rampant initially showcases gorgeous and detailed costumes and production design. Unfortunately, it also features lifeless characters -- and not just the ones who have returned from the dead as demons.
In the U.S., we would identify these demons as zombies, but this is one reason I love exploring other cultures through their films: education! True, in this case, I would have preferred a more lively group of heroes, as well as less emphasis on the non-royals, who assume the lead roles and are nearly entirely consumed with their own boring selves and their own boring power games.
I mean, there are demons in the rotting flesh everywhere! C'mon, royals, wake up and smell the stench. Instead of banding together in the face of catastrophe, which, history has proven, nearly every group facing disaster will do, Rampant paints a historical fantasy that the royals (and those plotting to replace them) are far too consumed with themselves to give a slashing sword about anybody else.
Well, maybe. But Rampant is so preoccupied with delineating how rotten the royals are, in general, that it doesn't bother with anything more interesting, such as giving the audience reason to care about the few, secondary characters who put the needs of others above their own. Then, when some of these few people succumb to the inevitable, their noble sacrifice is celebrated as though a great disaster has fallen. One royal personage finally learns his lesson. Bah!
Our own Pierce Conran reviewed the film when it debuted in its native South Korea last year:
"Hyun Bin versus the undead in Joseon Era-regalia may sound like an intriguing proposition, but while this big-budget foray from director Kim Sung-hoon attempts to combine genre thrills with a political allegory, it winds up being both a bloodless zombie tale and a humdrum King's court drama."
As usual, Mr. Conran says it much better than I can. Still, it may be that you are a huge horror / zombie fan and enjoy watching barely-living people munching and slaughtering not-so-dead-yet people, so help yourself.
Note, too, that Netflix has another zombie series, Kingdom, which has been out since January 2019, but I found that to be an even tougher haul through its first season of six episodes. The series relies more on its narrative and features bigger and better stars in its cast. Theoretically, those should be its strong points.
But it's a long, drawn-out story that can't justify its length, and I found it somewhat wearisome because it kept setting up premises without good payoffs. Also, beware that a second season is promised. So, you gotta really love zombies to watch it. Again, help yourself.