What an absolutely glorious time to be a horror/zombie fan! I've already showcased my love for Korean TV and cinema before, so I don’t think there’s any surprise in this article.
All Of Us Are Dead appeared so suddenly that I didn’t even have to count too many days till its premiere on Netflix. I saw the short teaser 2 weeks before the initial launch date, and I fell in love with the show even before I had a chance to turn on Episode 1. You see, you put Korean, zombie, horror, and series/film in one sentence, and I am immediately on board. No questions asked.
In this series, Hyosan High School becomes ground zero for an infectious disease spreading quicker than anything before. We follow three storylines:
It all starts when one of the teachers, Lee Byeong-chan (Byeong-cheol Kim), creates the Jones virus to provide protection to his son who’s brutally bullied at school. After that, events quickly spiral out of control.
The idea behind the virus itself was to transmute fear into rage and aggression. However, Byeong-chan himself could not comprehend what he created until it was too late. After a girl in the school finds one of the infected hamsters in the science lab and gets bitten, the students' fight for their life begins.
It’s definitely not one of those slow-burner shows; they get into the action pretty fast after introducing our main characters. It starts off as a teen drama where love, fighting for popularity, and (sadly) bullying are part of everyday life. There’s a difference between lower and upper-class students from the beginning, and it plays an important part throughout the story. It is the big gap between the classes and the actions of the bullies that inspired Byeong-chan to create the virus. Byeong-chan's son attempts suicide, driven by the depression from the bullies' constant harassment. Byeong-chan finds out and realizes that the bullies are completely getting away with it. Byeong-chan hopes the virus will give his only child a fighting chance.
This series sheds a light on how schools still struggle to handle bullying. The schools often do not step up when it's needed, afraid of what the public might think. As a result, many bullies get away with the horrible things they do to their schoolmates day to day. In this “what if” scenario, it’s interesting to think about what would have happened if the bullies got an actual punishment instead of being able to terrorize their schoolmates like nothing ever happened.
All Of Us Are Dead is based on a webtoon created by Joo Dong-Geun. The great thing about this is that you can actually read the whole thing here for free. I am predicting that it will eventually come out in physical form now that the series is doing so well on Netflix.
The cast includes names who may be familiar to international viewers, too, like Lee Yoo-mi who played Ji-Yeong in Squid Game, and Jeon Bae-soo who had roles in movies like The Wailing and another Netflix original, Stranger.
There are many things I absolutely loved in this series, including the new direction it dares to take.
The characters—even the minor ones—all have a story behind them. They are not just the usual zombie troop expendable people. I loved the backstories they managed to pull in, and, to be fair, they had even more time to tell those stories than other lately popular shows. See, All Of Us Are Dead got 12 episodes instead of the 6 or 8 episodes of some other shows. In addition, each episode is 50 minutes to an hour-long. The first two episodes do drag out a bit, but not in a way that it becomes too boring. Then, once the rise of the zombies begins, there’s no stop to the adrenaline rush.
Let’s stop here for a second.
This series does something that I just LOVE (yes with capital letters): they don’t refer to the infected people as walkers, runners, whisperers, or whatever else… They said it right from the start, clear as day, that these are zombies. Done. It is as easy as that. They even addressed the absolute smash hit (and one of my all-time favorite movies) Train to Busan. When the kids talk about what’s been happening in their school, and they start to bring up the obvious, I literally had tears in my eyes because they call them what they are. No need to give them some clever(ish) name, they are zombies. End of story. Beautiful. Thank you.
I need to also mention that the balance they are able to keep between teen drama and zombie series is something pretty admirable. The kids felt like the embodiment of hope whenever they talk about love interests, worries about school, and what comes after, all while the world is falling apart. The kids are keeping their faith in surviving and getting to see another day. I especially liked a repeating conversation between two of the main characters On-jo (Ji-hu Park) and Cheong-san (Chan-Young Yoon) where they said:
"Why don’t we talk about this later? Tomorrow or the day after. Or next week, maybe."
Teenage worries also come back in another form, and that’s where we need to talk about the "new thing" they introduced in this series. Lee Byeong-chan, who created the virus, addresses a very interesting possibility where the virus can mutate in such a way that it creates evolved humans.
What does it mean?
In some cases, those who get infected would still desire raw meat, but they would be able to keep their consciousness while also becoming stronger and able to heal themselves. Most importantly though, they can walk among the zombies. Now, in other scenarios, I despise it when they try to introduce "smart zombies" like they tried to do in Land of the Dead. However, here, it is different enough that I was able to get on board with it. It didn’t have an overbearing effect on the whole story.
They introduce three students who became these evolved humans. It was interesting to see how it was different with each kid and how it evolved their desires and teenage worries. First, Eun-ji (Hye-Soo Park) left the safety of the roof because she needed to destroy all the phones before an embarrassing video of her could reach anyone. Even though the world was thrown into chaos, the most important thing for her was to escape humiliation that would have been caused by her bullies. So, after she gets bitten and doesn’t turn, her whole idea of being the outcast becomes stronger. Sure, she was concerned before, but now no longer cares about the consequences.
The other two students show this evolution differently. The main antagonist, and one of the bullies of the series, Gwi-Nam (Yoo In-Soo), is driven by his vengeance and his fear to face the consequences of his actions. Once he realizes that he can walk among the zombies, he even says his belief out loud: "I am a god!". And Nam-Ra (Yi-Hyun Cho) becomes a protector of her newly found friends, fighting with everything she has to push down the urge (and hunger) to attack them as long as she is able.
The whole idea behind the evolved humans reminded me of Sweet Home, another Netflix original. I liked that this idea never became too exaggerated. The main enemy was still the horde of zombies that they had to face.
The series never lost its focus on the struggles of the kids, and yet it was still able to shed light on how the world would react: closing down borders, creating quarantine centers, and, of course, not even believing what’s been happening in the Hyosan region. The story introduces a YouTuber at the beginning of Episode 4 who goes straight into Hyosan so he can show his followers the truth. We see the Livestream comments, and even when he is chased by zombies there are the ones like "This is so fake." and "The CGI is bad." It’s a great reflection on the world we actually live in. They even pull a Logan Paul kind of prank where they fake a zombie attack on the subway and the big "apology" video afterward is hilarious.
As the story progresses, the government decides to declare martial law in Hyosan. This kind of seals the deal on the kids’ fate going forward and makes their escape even more difficult. They discover from Byeong-chan's video journals that there's no cure for the Jonas virus and that the only solution is burning the bodies, and that's the moment the bombing started.
The finale is heartbreaking, to say the least. They definitely didn’t shy away from anything during the series, but what I appreciated a lot was the fact that it didn’t end on a cliffhanger. It definitely left the door open for a possible season 2, but, at the same time, even if that won’t happen, we are left with a bittersweet but complete series.
Altogether, I really loved the entire season. Train to Busan and Kingdom are definitely still sitting on the top of my favorite zombie movie and TV series list, but All Of Us Are Dead landed itself in third place easily. Koreans can’t seem to misfire when it comes to this genre, and that makes me incredibly happy.
Now… Can we get Kingdom Season 3 next, please?