It came from the depths, scratching its way out of a makeshift grave and shuffling toward civilization hungering for braiiiiins. In this way, The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale begins like a lot of zombie movies. But just about everything that comes after is fresh, funny, and totally bonkers. Of course it’s playing at the Fantasia International Film Festival!
Directed by Lee Min-jae, this South Korean zombie-comedy centers on the Park family, who runs a run-down gas station in a podunk town. To be frank, this a family made up of losers and misfits. The oldest brother Jun-gul (Jung Jae-young) is running the family business into the ground, much to the chagrin of his sneering and very pregnant wife Nam-ju (Um Ji-won). The younger brother Min-gul (Kim Nam-gil) is a failed big shot, returning home in a nice suit with his tail between his legs. Their sister Hye-gul (Lee Soo-kyung) is so socially awkward that her only friends are the pet rabbits she can’t keep alive. And the patriarch of this “odd” clan is Man-duk (Park In-hwan) a frustrated old grump who cheats at cards and still loses. But that all changes when they meet Zzongbie (Jung Ga-ram). Or more specifically, that all changes once Zzongbie—after many failed attempts to intimidate or hurt anyone—bites Man-duk in a bathroom stall.
Rather than turning into the ravenous walking dead, Man-duk awakes (after a pretty terrible night of near-death) looking and feeling ten years younger! With his vitality restored, he is the instant envy of his peers who immediately beg for his secret. He initially brushes them off, until they offer to pay. Meanwhile, lonely Hye-gul has grown close to Zzongbie, giving him a name and shifting his diet from brains to cabbage covered in her favorite hot sauce. But when a line of horny old men desperate for boners line up outside the garage, the Park family is quick to turn their strange encounter with the undead into an opportunity!
This is all act one stuff. From there, The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale goes to some truly wild places. There’ll be family tensions as the Parks decide what’s best for their booming new business and their new family member. There’ll be carnage once the inevitable zombie outbreak occurs, giving audiences all the mayhem and carnage they’ve come to expect from zombie movies but all with a twisted sense of humor. And—perhaps most surprising—there will be romance. See, Hye-gul goes full Tina Belcher, falling hard for Zzongbie, who to be fair is pretty cute for a corpse! The pair have several near-kisses, a quirky date, heart-wrenching self-sacrifices, and grand romantic gestures. It feels strange to root for a romance where one of the participants is a mute, shambling zombie. But by keeping this thread sweet and chaste, Min-jae keeps it fresh and funny. Sweeping music swells as the pair tumble precariously into the cabbage patch or as Zzongbie embraces Hye-gul while more vicious zombies swarm. And in spite of the obvious grossness of this star-crossed romance, you might find yourself rooting for KISS KISS KISS!
Watching The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale I mostly marveled at how much story is crammed into 112 minutes. It’s packed with a bunch of wacky characters, silly bits, and outlandish misadventures. As I watched, it reminded me less of other zom-coms I’ve seen and more of post-apocalyptic TV comedies like Will Forte’s Last Man on Earth or the Brit-com Cockroaches (now on Hulu). I began to imagine how the Park family’s story might be told over a season of quirky episodes, the first being the introduction of Zzongbie and the family, ending with Man-duk stretched out on his bed, seemingly dead from the bite. The next episode would get into the family’s plan to exploit Zzongie’s restorative properties while teasing the more undeadly side effects. And before long, I was wishing that this unique movie will get a TV remake because I want to see more and more of these bizarre but lovable characters!
All in all, The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale is exactly the kind of movie I’ve come to expect from Fantasia International Film Festival. It’s a foreign film that’s deftly aware of its genre’s conventions then gleefully chucks them to do something new and deeply strange. In this case, this zombie movie is far from frightening, favoring ghoulish with a heavy dose of ludicrous comedy. My notes are littered with scribbles that read “cabbage,” “dentures,” “hot sauce,” “boners, “fireworks,” alongside a drawing of those inflatable tube-person things that flap about outside of car dealerships. Each one relates to a bit that made me howl with laughter and/or drop my jaw in surprise. Basically, if you’re hungry for something spicy and totally nuts, seek out The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale.
The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale made its Canadian Premiere on July 29.