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HELSINKI CINE AASIA: THE ODD FAMILY – ZOMBIE ON SALE

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Park family are a collection of small time grifters, living out somewhere in the boondocks of Seoul. Their lives are interrupted with the arrival of a mute, seemingly dead new arrival, with a penchant for biting. It’s not long before the stranger has bitten his first victim, sending the already unbalanced family into hysterics. Only the bite doesn’t kill, instead rejuvenating the victim to youth again. For a time at least. Realizing the potential for the ultimate scheme, the Parks set themselves to utilize their newfound undead fortune.

Effortlessly mixing slapstick humor, gore, and family drama together, THE ODD FAMILY is a delightful balancing act that surprises at every turn. Just as I thought I had the film figured out, it threw another wild curveball at me. Turning genre conventions on their head, THE ODD FAMILY slips in poignant social commentary about human behavior amidst the laughs. By the time the blood begins to spill, director Lee Min-jae brings the goods with effectively staged thrills and scares. Filled with loving callbacks to genre favorites, the action never feels dull although running a little long at two hours.

Much of this is thanks to the cast, led by wonderfully goofball performances by Jung Jae-young, Kim Nam-gil, Uhm Ji-won, and Lee Soo-kyung. Nam-gil is especially hilarious as the opportunistic yuppie returning home to his family. In a mostly silent part, Jung Ga-ram delivers a terrific physical performance as the first infected, affectionately named Jjong-bi. Slapped and tossed around like a ragdoll, Ga-ram’s highly expressive body language never fails to amuse. Soo-kyung, playing the socially awkward forlorn daughter of the family, gets to be both touching and badass. Especially thanks to a callback to a Peter Jackson classic bound to make fans squeal with joy.

Zombie films are always a reflection of their time, and THE ODD FAMILY is no exception. The Park’s are social outcasts, happy to live their lives in the boonies, scamming the rich who pass them by. They’re not lazy, (their plans grow ever more elaborate as the story progresses), but they’re not exactly normal either. Soo-kyung can’t keep her pets longer than a month; Jay-young lives in the past; and Nam-gil sees everything as a potential way to make a quick buck. For them, the outside world might as well not exist, and the film highlights this with some gorgeous cinematography. When the inevitable happens, the films ties everything together at the rundown repair shop they own. 

Everyone is looking for a quick path to a comfortable life, whether through money or returning to their youth. In a first for zombie films, being bit is marketed as a cure for impotence. The outbreak itself is treated with meta-awareness as well. (Characters are clued in on what’s happening thanks to a recent release of a zombie film.) Instead of panicking over what to do, Soo-kyung luckily has a copy of Zombie Survival Guide in her library. It’s a treat for the film to be so self-aware.

Luckily, THE ODD FAMILY isn’t satisfied with just cheap laughs, though the film is plenty broad in its comedy. The further the situation escalates, the satire sharpens as well. As COVID-19 spreads around the world, THE ODD FAMILY feels strangely prescient in how people react to viruses, and how quickly self-preservation turns to selfishness. 

As always, the zombies themselves turn humans to their most base form. And when they do, director Min-jae mines this for all its worth, knowing that as long as the audience is laughing, it’s that much easier to scare them silly seconds later. 

The result is a burst of energy, solidifying South Korea as the promised land of the zombie genre.

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