Toronto After Dark Review: 'The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale' Is an Absurd but Fresh Zombie Take Directed by Lee Min-jae
Starring Jung Ga-ram, Park In-hwan, Lee Soo-kyng, Kim Nam-gil
Published Oct 21, 2019The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale is the type of film that's a mainstay at the Toronto After Dark Film Fest: a gleefully silly, constantly moving zombie crowd-pleaser that's best watched with an audience of other like-minded horror geeks. Part The Host, part Bugs Bunny with a dash of Stephen Chow, there may not be much meat on Zombie On Sale's bones, but it sure is hilarious all the same.
It begins, as many zombie films do, with a shady pharmaceutical company. When an illegal medical experiment turns deadly, the body of a deceased test subject suddenly rises from the field in which it was dumped. This hapless young zombie (Jung Ga-ram) begins a slow and very ineffectual walk to the backwater village of Poongsan and eventually encounters the eccentric Park family, grifters who own a struggling gas station and have resorted to scamming wealthy out-of-towners.
After some shenanigans, our zombie protagonist finally manages to bite Man-duk (Park In-hwan), the Park family patriarch, a gambler and a cheat who just wants to win enough money for a trip to Hawaii. Man-duk manages to capture the zombie with the help of his equally useless adult children Min-gul (Kim Nam-gil), recently fired from his corporate gig, Hae-gul (Lee Soo-kyung), sweet and possibly psychotic, and Jun-gul (Jeong Jae-young), the beleaguered oldest brother with a surly, pregnant, frying pan-wielding wife (Uhm Ji-won).
Much to their surprise, the bite doesn't turn Man-duk into a zombie — rather, he becomes robust and virile, spurning the envy of his old gambling buddies. Realizing they can make a profit off a zombie that's essentially a living Viagra device, the enterprising Parks decide to monetize this situation. Of course, it doesn't all go entirely as planned.
It's an interesting and spirited new take on a genre done, as it were, to death, but the plot of The Odd Family often takes a back seat to both broad comedic setpieces (there are more Benny Hill-esque chase sequences than I could count) and moments of character-based humour. While you couldn't ever call The Odd Family "subtle," each member of the Park clan brings unique idiosyncrasies to the table that often manifest in well-timed physical comedy. The Odd Family takes a lot of delight in simply being a bastion of slapstick weirdness, although it has a ball deconstructing well-worn zombie tropes.
The film's central zombie is idol-star pretty, with more interest in eating cabbage heads smothered in gochujang than actual human heads. The Park family doesn't even realize they've captured a real-life zombie until they watch a clip of Train to Busan on a smartphone, but quickly discover standard zombie-handling techniques aren't going to work on this poor sap, who's already attracted the romantic attentions of daughter Hae-gul. It's a bit of a shame the film doesn't decide to run farther with the concept of zombie-based capitalism, as horror about the working poor and the schemes they're forced to hatch for survival are having a bit of a moment in K-horror (see: Bong Joon-ho's excellent Parasite).
By the time the film enters its second act, The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale descends into all-out chaos, with our ragtag bunch of obnoxious weirdos forced to do battle against a horde of horny grandpas. Mostly avoiding excessive gore, it may not appeal to dedicated zombie fans, and it's certainly not thought-provoking satire. But for those of us fatigued by the constant barrage of near-identical zombie movies, The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale is an absurdist, goofy dream.