ALL OF US ARE DEAD is the newest South Korean series on Netflix. It is a YA zombie series that adults can easily watch too. South Korea is a hub of cinema creativity and has shown a level of excellence in cinematic art that cannot be denied. I am happy to announce that ALL OF US ARE DEAD, based on a Naver webtoon written by Joo Dong-geun, adds a complex and humanistic creation that is thoroughly entertaining to South Korea’s list of successes in K-horror and K-zombie works.
The series is written by Chun Sung-il (The Slave Hunters, L.U.C.A.: The Beginning) and is directed by Lee JQ (Legendary Police Woman, Beethoven Virus) and Kim Nam-soo. What they have done with this series is to create a realistic and sometimes harrowing story and that’s before the zombie outbreak really gets started. The show takes on tough subjects like bullying, suicidal ideation, sexual abuse, bigotry and brutality along with usual issues with parents, grades, class consciousness, and romantic feelings.
The series stars Park Ji-hu (House of Hummingbird, Black Light) as Nam On-jo, Yoon Chan-young (Mothers, Light For The Youth) as Lee Cheong-san, Cho Yi-hyun (Metamorphosis, School 2021) as Choi Nam-ra, Park Solomon (Horror Stories III, The Guardian) as Lee Su-hyeok, Yoo In-soo (Strong Girl Bong-soon, Life) as Yoon Gwi-nam, Lee Yoo-mi (Park Hwa-Young, Squid Game) as Lee Na-yeon, Lim Jae-hyeok (Alice, Cat’s Bar) as Yang Dae-su, Ha Seung-ri (The King: Eternal Monarch) as Jang Ha-r, Lee Eun-saem (The Fault Is Not Yours, The Red Sleeve) as Park Mi-jin and the adults Jeon Bae-soo (#Alive, No Tears For The Dead) as Fire Captain Nam So-ju, Bae Hae-sun (Romang, Hymn of Death) as Assembly Member Park, and Kim Byung-chul (Doctor Prisoner, Best Friend) as Lee Byeong-chan.
The logline in the press materials is very simple and I think the best way to describe it: “At a school overrun by the zombie virus, trapped students struggle together to stay alive until help arrives.” But it’s so much more than that. The series tackles a lot of issues but still has room for humor in some of the oddest moments. It’s not “grimdark” but has real stakes and creates characters that you can relate to and that you care about. The young actors that have been chosen for the roles are very charismatic and care about their characters. It shows every time one of the main crew of human survivors dies or is put in jeopardy. The most successful zombie stories are usually about something other than the Zombie Apocalypse and their characters represent parts of that story that draw you into the human experience or point out society’s failings.
If I had to sum up ALL OF US ARE DEAD, it’s about the cruelties of everyday life that plague people in difficult situations or homes. You see the characters go through some pretty awful things that they can’t control, but what really matters is holding onto their humanity. You see examples of how people react in different ways, good and awful, but it shows that people who can cooperate and work together are frequently the ones who survive. Sometimes, life gives you a really bad hand, but it is up to the individual person to make the choice whether to surrender to evil or find a way to survive. It also makes the point that sometimes, there’s nothing you can do, but that you can still do the right thing that may save someone else or give someone else hope. We’re all connected and we all matter, with every choice that we make.
There are complex characterizations and moral ambiguity going on too. People make bad decisions but aren’t strictly unredeemable. Survival with kindness and dignity is possible even among a zombie horde, but you have to choose it. Too often in Western zombie films and shows, survival at all cost is the driving force. ALL OF US ARE DEAD continues the K-zombie tradition that a wanna-be survivor who turns on others isn’t the hero. They are cowards who put their humanity at risk every time that they do other people dirty.
The series was filmed on a specially built set that is Hyosan High School. This set itself looks really good and realistic with exteriors that work well for the filmed action. My only quibble is that an early scene had a bit of the look of a soundstage, but it’s just a quibble and probably something that most people won’t notice.
Now for the zombies. They’re really good. The characters who turn and the extras who play the zombie mob of students are all really dedicated to the role. They’re pretty fierce and are working in the K-zombie universe of fast-moving, quick turning, rage-filled zombies. This show’s virus does add audible bone-cracking that is so severe it sometimes breaks the body of the newly turned zombie. There are standardized tells that show when someone is infected and the story uses this particular plot device very well. The show is not horrifically gory for the most part, but you do get some blood fountains and guts flying. Gorehounds aren’t left out. There’s a large-scale zombie attack scene that has about 200 actors and extras in it that’s well-done chaos. The tension as the students and other characters try to figure out how to survive works. I cannot divulge any specifics of plot, but the characters becoming more confident and thinking around the standard problems of zombies and the somewhat less than ideal defense situation gives the show tension and I found myself rooting for the characters to solve those problems.
It gets you involved. The show throws some real curves at you.
ALL OF US OUR DEAD is a solid entry into the K-zombie subgenre with interesting characters and an involving and occasionally morally ambiguous plot. Its message that people work best as a team to survive and that individuals can rise above past trauma and bad deeds to mature and become better people (and survivors) is inspiring for a time such as this. Would that everyone in the world could get the message that selfishly insisting on having your way because you know best is counterproductive to our species survival and can eventually doom everyone.
ALL OF US ARE DEAD is now available for viewing on Netflix.