Thursday, 15 October 2015

Bio Zombie - review

1998 (Hong Kong)

Contains spoilers

Bio zombie is pretty much everything you'd want from a comedy zombie film. Witty dialogue, dark and dirty zombies and carnage, a delightful buddy pairing in Jordan Chan as Woody (Invincible as he's credited) and Sam Lee as (Crazy) Bee who are helped to shine by interesting complementary characters, and a director who clearly understand pacing and delivers when called upon. Honestly if you think Shaun and Ed (Simon and Nick) mixed with Dead Alive (Braindead) staged like Dawn of the Dead given a bit of video-game touch up, you'd be on the right track. Add that it's not doing any of these zombie 'A' list films a disservice by association and you'll get an idea how good I think this forgotten and overlooked gem is. Okay, if we're picky one could say it does take a good hour to really get going, and I would possibly have to own up, that should I watch it again I'd probably fast forward much of the dialogue heavy pre-action; but once dialled up, it really does deliver.

Woody and Bee remind me of Bill and Ted, yet slightly more rounded and authentic for two down and out chancers interested only in booze, drugs and getting laid; this due in part by not being restrained by any PG film rating requirement. When not ripping young geeks off, harangue local traders and female shoppers and generally larking about causing mischief, the two scallywags pretend to run a small video store in the New Trend Plaza shopping arcade for their boss. Now, it was on one such errand for their boss, the minor manner of collecting his car from the garage that they also became responsible for the rather more serious disruption that's the focus of the film.

Now I say they're responsible; but really, following the tried and tested zombie outbreak trope that contrives to deliver the actual highly secret and dangerous compound or toxin; and ultimate seed of universal armageddon into the hands of ignorant and usually quite naïve and curious passers-by, I'm not sure quite sure how much responsibility they should take. I mean covertly trading the bio-zombie bio-weapon in a Lucozade bottle with minimal security in a warehouse close to a residential and retail centre, alongside a test subject who's gotten rather aggressive and hungry, is kind of asking for trouble. Again though, Woody and Bee did choose to take the fleeing dying soldier to the mall, force feed him the soda then forget about him so they could play video games; then realising their error not raise the alarm on finding a zombie cocoon, missing body and hearing a monstrous moan, so maybe they should shoulder some of blame for the consequent death, carnage and mayhem.

Director and co-script writer Wilson Yip's pacing if a little slow to get going, is nigh on perfect once zombie-soldier man turns into zombie soldier and zombie-police man, then into zombie-soldier, zombie-police man and zombie-sushi man ad infinitum. The initial undead encounters which tie the main characters, whom we've already bonded with, together are full of charm and laughs; the subsequent ramp up of danger is legitimate and measured, understanding the zombie threat's need to develop and grow in parallel to the survivors' ability to deal with it. And though there are moments of poignancy and seriousness, especially the final ten minutes or so, where you find yourself feeling uncomfortably challenged waiting for a punchline that doesn't seem to be coming, Yip still understands that he's putting together something that wants to play with the absurdity of an enemy that's neither alive or dead. Once on the scene there's no contrivance and pretence to explain what they are; we know what they are, Woody, Bee and Rolls (Angela Ying-Ying Tong) know what they are and we're all together in understanding their strengths and their shortcomings.

Obviously taking their influence from Dawn of the Dead the blue tinted zombies stumble and groan between each new and tasty meal. Though slightly more frenetic than their Romero cousins, it's still all about an enemy that relies on maths to eventually win; the lone zombie easily circumvented or dispatched with a satisfactory amount of blood and ingenuity. Yip also allows himself a little more licence than Romero to play, allowing for zombies to demonstrate certain amounts of self-awareness and recall, either to aid the narrative or just for the lols; for example, the security guard knows to hit a switch to close the main shutter doors removing our heroes one perceived exit, and Sushi Boy / Loi (Emotion Cheung) who retaining his crush for Rolls, as an obvious Warm Bodies influence, tries to distract other zombies from her by serving them actual finger-finger-rolls.

Overflowing with energy and confidence Bio zombie is also a very human film, full of warmth for characters you do quite quickly invest in and care for. Yip may provide the perfect canvas but Jordan and Sam (Woody and Bee) had still to deliver, and do so with a genuine killer buddy performance that's pretty much as good as it gets. As said once in full swing it's all the bit the great relentless zombie gore fest, yet it's the first hour with it's witty, sharp script, top delivery and deep character development that sets it all up to be so good and as such shouldn't be so dismissed. A Hong-Kong pop-subculture horror / comedy / action mash-up, Bio zombie is an overlooked zombie great - 8/10.


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