Among any line-up of horror movies, you’ll see a number of zombie titles, many of which will be comedies. In that batch, however, you might find the occassional gem or two that unabashedly bend the rules and go against typical genre conventions and expectations. It speaks to the challenge at hand, and hard overall work it takes to create something as outstanding as writer and director Lee Min-Jae’s February debut, The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale, a film that evidently finds a way to turn the zombie genre on its head without selling you short on value.
A few examples of this may even include titles like Shaun Of The Dead or Versus, or even Warm Bodies in recent memory. Rest assured, Lee himself proves his acumen aptly in crafting a stylish zombie thriller dressed in a fun family comedy with tons of heart. Cue the brooding intro shots of a rainy evening filmed to a medley of breaking AM radio news about a pharmaceutical company’s illegal diabetes medicinal experiments, a man (Jung Ga-Ram) crawling out from a hole, and a couple seemingly getting treated after a near-fatal accident on the road.
Our tale continues onward in the rural town of Poongsan where the Park family runs a small gas station run by the Park family, relying on self-engineered tourist traps to make some easy money as opposed to providing genuine service. It’s a day that seems like any other for the eldest son, Joon-Gul (Jung Jae-Young) and pregnant wife Nam-Joo (Uhm Ji-Won), the latter who manages all the funds in a lockbox, while family’s youngest, Hae-Gul (Lee Soo-Kyung) is out burying another in a series of pets that keep dying on her, and with their second oldest, Min-Gul (Kim Nam-Gil), is just getting home after unceremoniously getting fired from his company.
Little does anyone know, including passerbys ignorant of the unique circumstances they’ve just came across, that our aforementioned mystery man has wandered into town with a specific kind of appetite. When the family patriarch, Man-Deok (Park In-Hwan) scurries outside to tamp down on a disturbance, he unwittingly becomes the first victim of a zombie-like bite – thanks no less to our elusive mystery man who later reappears in Hae-Gul’s barn.
Managing to avoid perpetual carnage, they trap the nameless man in Hae-Gul’s barn whilst commencing any and all deductive reasoning to try and solve their unique situation; Not only are they dealing with an actual zombie, but its impulses have driven it to an unyielding hunger for cabbage, and nothing more. Their somewhat chaotic sitch takes a turn for the peculiar when Man-Deok awkaens one morning with a more youthful air about himself, and Man-Deok is suddenly implored to tell his nosy friends how this is possible.
For the initially doubtful and paranoid Min-Gul, this has effectively become a goldmine for the family business at the gas station with the village locals willfully paying more and even double the cost just to feel young again, and for a time, it works. Even as Man-Deok disappears off to Hawaii, and despite fear of their secret causing backlash within the community, what felt like a risky get-rich-quick scheme ultimately flips in their favor, breathing a renewed sense of vitality at the gas station.
Reaping the fruits of their proverbial undead labor while their foolhearty clients rediscover their younger selves, they welcome their walking dead into the Park family, and ultimately they give him a name, and a home on-site. With a village full of elderlies feeling spritely and healthier, all seems to be copasetic and promising until side affects start kicking, taking a turn for the grim and horrific.
As for Hae-Gul, having found some semblance of companionship with the Parks’ new addition to the family, Zzongbie, could mean the very potentially difficult choice of helping him escape to prevent her brothers and sister-in-law from taking any more advantage of him. That choice gets made in a make-or-break moment when the once idyllic village finds itself under attack with zombie invading from nearly all angles, and the sole-surviving Park family must tap into as many available resources as they can if they’re going to stay alive.
With Lee’s The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale, you get a zombie comedy ripe with energy and laughter. Audiences will thrive handsomely from the slapstick that entails between Kim and Jung, as well as from Uhm’s albeit flawed, protective and charming forced to be reckoned with bosslady persona as Nam-Joo. The biggest highlight will be the underlying development between Hae-Gul and Zzongbie as the latter slowly re-learns his humanity.
The plot-point involving the aforementioned pharmaceutical company responsible for the necro-fueled pandemic in this film pretty much takes a back-seat, which was a pretty good call on Lee’s part. Conflating the story so instantaneously while trying to establish where our key characters fit might have been too much for the film to handle, and the overall plot might’ve been lost. At least here, at about one hour and fifty minutes, Lee delivers with a cohesive and lean horror comedy spectacle that will surprise, thrill, amaze, and even enamor you right to the very end.