The South Korean film industry never ceases to drag viewers to the edge of their seats when it comes down to the flesh eating genre of zombies. A few of the notable films and drama series that you might recognise are Train to Busan, Kingdom, #Alive and Sweet Home.
Now in 2022, All of Us Are Dead brings back a zombie infested environment, but with a slight twist. There are no ‘heroes’ or OP characters in this series. You’re left in the hands of vulnerable high school students who are forced to learn, adapt and survive while fighting the familiar faces of their classmates who are now hungry for flesh and blood.
So, what makes director Lee Jae-Gyu’s zombie infested high school series worth watching?
(*Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead!)*
All of Us Are Dead is actually Netflix’s adaption of a Naver Webtoon series under the same title, but also known as Jigeum uri hakgyoneun 지금 우리 학교는 (2009 – 2011). In August 2021, an English release of the series was published on the popular Webtoon comics app, gaining more than 8.4 million readers.
Ground zero of the virus starts at Hyosan High School, following the junior Class 2-5 through their mundane lives chatting about eating some tasty fried chicken, their love interests and also gossiping about their science teacher Mr Lee Byeong-Chan (Lee Byung-Chul), who’s been smelling like a rotten corpse after the disappearance of his wife and son.
Little do the students know, it’s Mr Lee’s vengeance that drove him to develop a virus that brings the “weak to pray on the strong”, after the failed attempts to have the school take action against his son being harassed and bullied.
The Netflix adaptation sticks to the original material when it comes down to the epicentre of the zombie pandemic, after a student is bitten by one of the infected hamsters in Mr Lee’s science lab. This event transforms an ordinary sunny day, into a nightmare of blood and screams as chaos descends on the students forever changing their lives.
The faces from Class 2-5 are the characters the audience follow through this hectic journey of trauma, pain and survival
Most of the cast who play the high school students are recent young actors and actresses, as director Jae-Gyu wanted to capture authentic reactions and chemistry between the ensemble crew.
Nam On-Jo (Park Ji-Hu) and Lee Cheong-San (Yoon Chan-Young) are the childhood friends in the group that most people shipped as #couplegoals by the end of the series. Although some could disagree that the intelligent and anti-social class president Choi Nam-Ra (Cho Yi-Hyun,) who seemed to only speak in riddles, together with the reformed bully and tacky Lee Su-Hyeok (Lomon) won the audiences’ heart with their subtle yet romantic touch to the show.
Going past the usual high school character tropes, these groups of students take you on their journey of trying to comprehend losing their best friends, parents and in some cases each other through their vulnerable dialogue.
Surviving with the brains
Most films or series in the zombie genre usually follow experienced adults who end up “MacGyvering” a weapon from basic everyday tools. The same can be said with the students of Class 2-5 harbouring their combined intuitiveness and tenacious survival attitudes.
It’s common to not get attached to characters in zombie films or series because you know that each one of them will eventually meet their demise. But one of the aspects that stands out in All of Us Are Dead is how the series shows each student dealing with seeing their close friends and family members turning into zombies.
One of the most heart-wrenching moments in the series happened when the students managed to get a small drone and flew it around the school to see if they could get help from other survivors. While flying the drone, Kim Ji-Min (Kim Jin-Young) saw her father’s truck and desperately wanted to see if her parents were alive. As viewers, you’re already expecting the inevitable and shaking your head knowing it’s definitely a bad idea.
The scene unfolds with Ji-Min seeing her parents flailing in the car as zombies, while silence fills the whole room. She slowly buries her head into her knees while On-Jo leans in for an embrace.
Showing the vulnerability of these students trying to grasp their situation lets you feel the struggle of attempting to comprehend an incredibly difficult event not knowing where it fits into reality.
All 12 episodes of All of Us Are Dead will drag you straight into the journey of survival
Not every episode is perfect, with some scenes just ridiculously bonkers and others where you feel that some students deserve the backhand as a result of their actions.
The ensemble cast of recent actors and actresses can be unbearable at times, with some maintaining stoic emotional reactions until the end of the show. But what else can you expect with a bunch of high school students in a zombie pandemic? The fact that some of the performances are frustrating to watch, is what makes them true to being high school students. Nonetheless, there were still some fairly notable acting from several cast members, especially when it comes to one of the villains in the series.
Overall, despite some of the major deviations from the original material to make this Netflix series more ‘exciting’, I’d give All of Us Are Dead a 7/10 for director Jae-Gyu’s slightly different take on the zombie genre of entertainment.
It’s definitely not on the level of Train to Busan or Sweet Home when it comes down to the story and overall conclusion. But the fact that it’s still in the top 3 shows on Netflix globally, as of writing this review, demonstrates that it still grabs the attention of anyone who comes across the series and makes it on to the binge worthy list of shows to watch.
And yes, if avid kdrama fans are wondering, Lee Yoo-Mi from Squid Game also plays a role in this series.
So, if you’re keen for another take on flesh hungry zombies, All of Us Are Dead will certainly fill your appetite. And if you’re interested, feel free to check out the Webtoon series here and decide which version of the story you enjoy the most.
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