In all of Singapore’s history, leave it to director Jacen Tan to blaze a trail introspective enough to pitch the Southeast Asian city-state’s first-ever zombie film. That effort leaves moviegoers with Zombiepura, partly inspired by Tan’s own conception in his heyday as a National Service reservist.
This particular story focuses on Kayu (Alaric), a lazy reservist whose only focus at any given point is to take the path of least resistance despite constantly getting chewed out by his commanding officer, Siao On. At best, medical leave is his best and only option, and that’s only if he can fake it properly. Kayu and friend Tazan (Haresh Tilani) eventually make it inside doctor’s office after applying mosquito repellant to make it look like Kayu has early symptoms of conjunctivitis.
Just as he’s being diagnosed, a soldiers bring in a dead body, only for it to reanimate and bite its first victim. The incident causes a chain reaction that spans the entire camp apart from Kayu and Siao On, as well as former beauty queen-turned-nurse Suzie (Chen Xiuhuan), and her daughter, Xiao Ling (Joey Pink Lai).
When they manage to reach a safe haven with other reservists, suspicion has already surfaced about who was bitten, causing soldiers to turn on each other with Kayu, Siao On, Suzie and Xiao Ling caught in the middle. With nowhere to turn and no immediate help in sight, it’s up to Kayu and Siao On to put their differences aside and mold themselves into the team they need to be if they’re going to help each other survive the zombie apocalypse.
Tan pretty much has most of his bases covered here when it comes to all things zombie genre-related. His actors have all been well trained and act the part awesomely, peppered with practical effects through and through, and with great on-set lighting to keep the mood going. The film’s applications of zombie-lore are pretty brilliant here too; the moments of “muscle memory” in which our protagonists find ways to get from point-A to point-B gave whilst using the zombies’ feral instincts against them was impressive and well done.
Other certain plot points felt a little less so comedic than silly, though not necessarily drab or forced – gladly, there’s not too much comedy here to threaten the seriousness that the film also needs to work, especially for at least one scene where Kayu needs to fire the group’s only loaded rifle to save an ally. The action and general stuntwork, handled aptly by Singapore’s own Sunny Pang, gets about as mild as a zombie comedy could for this particular endeavor. You get plenty of the red stuff, but not necessarily any of the sort of glorified Walking Dead kills. Oddly enough there’s quite the opposite with zombies doing most of the attacking and frantic chasing.
The very core message of Zombiepura is never lost though, as it deals mainly with Kayu’s discipline. His character undergoes a few interesting moments where he’s left a precipice and forced to make choices he doesn’t want to make, and even possibly use his upper body strength for more than playing video games. Zombiepura does have a few teething moments where the action could have had our characters move much faster amid the peril they’re in.
This sort of doltishness occurs only a few more times much later on but it doesn’t cripple the film any, and would likely instead have you rooting for Kayu by the end. He’s the definitive underdog of this prototypical action horror, and for what Tan and his crew accomplishes here, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Singapore saw another like it for the horror fans at home and abroad. Tan’s craft is indicative of Singapore’s talented millieu and it’s an honor to see Zombiepura find its undead footing in that process.