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Far East Extreme: “Biozombie”, the Original Survival-Horror movie!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019 | Opinion

             Hello all! Far-East Extreme is back from our summer break and ready to bring you more interesting and often obscure Asian horror films! Hong Kong has recently been all over the news, and the freedoms of Hongkongers versus those of mainland Chinese has long been a subject of contention. This freedom extends to the cinema, where films in Hong Kong often face censorship when they come to the mainland, and are generally more scrutinized content-wise. Today’s film, Biozombie, was released only one year after the handover, and was something of a bellweather, not necessarily of Chinese horror film, but rather the fact that it is likely the first horror film to be heavily influenced by video games!  Biozombie is a rather small and unassuming film that actually received quite a following in Hong Kong, so much so that many Chinese horror fans have fond memories of it.

            This zombie film follows the exploits of Woody and Bee, two losers on the bottom of the food chain in Hong Kong’s criminal underground. This bumbling dumb and dumber duo, in between managing a bootleg video shop, go after their real goals in life: women and money. On the way back from getting their boss’s car fixed, the two accidentally run over a man, who with his dying breath seems to point to the nearby can of soda he was holding at the time of the accident. Thinking he is thirsty, the two give it to him to drink, not realizing this is actually a deadly chemical weapon that turns people into flesh-eating zombies! They hide the body in the trunk of the car and drive back to their shop, hoping to forget the incident entirely. Later on, when the man escapes from the trunk, seemingly alive once again, they interpret the body coming back to life as him never being dead in the first place! It leaves knowing fans on the edge of their seat, salivating for some zombie action; though they are in for a bit of a wait.

            This is a bit more summarizing than I usually do, but this time its for a good reason: if you were to watch this movie expecting a zombie movie from the get-go, you’d be very disappointed. After the initial setup, the first half of the film pretty much eschews horror altogether,and is instead about two gangster wannabes and the crazy people they run into at the mall – dumb sophomoric humor with no blood or brains to be seen.  I nearly gave up on Biozombie then and there, but with some perseverance you will reach the meat and..brains of the film.

            Eventually it does become obvious even to the goofballs that make up the main part of the cast that they are in the middle of the zombie outbreak, and so Woody, Bee, love interest Rolls, and dysfunctional power-couple Jelly and Kui (whose role will be obvious to anyone who’s seen Night of the Living Dead) decide to break out of the mall, while on the run from an ever-increasing zombie horde. This is when you really notice how much the filmmakers must have been in love with the (at the time) brand new genre of “survival horror.” We see brief snippets of this early on, such as footage of the actors playing House of the Dead on their good ol’ Sega Saturn; they are able to live out their video game fantasies not long after. Woody and Bee, being the brave heroes, begin their journey by a series of simple fetch quests, such as retrieving some weapons, food, or even Bee using his trusty knife to get a key from a corpse’s mouth! Surveillance is also done, by using a gameboy camera, no less. As a fan of video games myself, I appreciated the pop-culture nod, and the novelty of seeing how some gamers would progress through the various challenges thrown their way. Director Wilson Yip also takes clear inspiration from Romero, with the cultural satire that comes with putting zombies in a shopping mall. However, where Dawn of the Dead focused more on black humor, Biozombie’s forte seems to be more of the gross out variety with plenty of sight gags. The dumb humor of the first act is definitely well served by adding a side of ketchup, such as when zombie chef Loi, in an attempt to protect the human Rolls (who he still has a crush on even in un-death) , aims to satiate the hungry zombie customers in his shop by serving them human sushi!

“After the initial setup, the first half of the film pretty much eschews horror altogether,and is instead about two gangster wannabes and the crazy people they run into at the mall – dumb sophomoric humor with no blood or brains to be seen. “

          These highlights of the film make some of its shortcomings much more palatable. As before stated, the first act is over-burdened with unnecessary set-up, and any anticipation is quickly lost as the characters move at a zombie’s pace; leisurely eating, stealing valuables, and having drunken sex while the audience is left to question whether they’re watching the right movie. Horror movies also live or die based on their soundtrack, and what we have here is generic haunted house tunes and lots of screams. The special effects are strangely anemic, and often times the camera cuts away altogether, such as when a zombie takes a power drill to the skull. Blood and guts are generally in short supply for a zombie movie.

            With the absence of effects or atmosphere, it falls to the actors to power their way through the film on their own talent, which they do admirably. Part of Biozombie’s notoriety may stem from the fact that the filmmakers managed to capture lightning in a bottle by getting many young cast and crew members who would later become quite famous. Director Wilson Yip is now known for the Ip-man series, while leading man Jordan Chan became a mainstay in gangster films, which propelled him into such popularity that he was able to make a successful foray into politics. Angela Tong, a former beauty queen would focus on the small screen and get recognition in the drama “Life Made Simple”. As mentioned before, the comedy writing is generally top notch, and special attention has to go to the camera work, which actually uses some top-down still shots taken verbatim from Resident Evil!

            The film truly shines at the end with a mixture of heartfelt moments and buddy comedy, as well as its darker moments such as a wonderfully nihilistic ending in keeping with zombie movie tradition. This all makes for a better film than you’d expect, and is an enjoyable watch for those unfamiliar with Chinese horror. English-speaking viewers looking to track this movie down have the choice of a subtitled version and an English dub, which isn’t actually half bad, all things considered; for some it may even add to the humor!

Alex Ehrenreich
I'm a writer and horror-lover currently living in Tokyo. Be sure to check out my column "Far-East Extreme" where I write about the best in Asian horror cinema every month.