Korean zombie shows like Train to Busan (2016), Netflix original series (2019), #Alive (2020) and Happiness (2021) have all become global hits, proving that this kind of demand is in high demand content. Through its grotesque image of zombies and their transformation between humans and monsters, these South Korean shows offer a horrific critique of society’s moral depravity and systemic illness. As we enter the third year of a once in a century pandemic that has swept the planet and killed millions, more producers are using zombies to make sense of the COVID era. That’s it, now we have the next “We All Die” zombie strike.
“We All Die”, directed by Lee Jae-Kyu, is a fresh look at the subgenre and a laudable successor to the growing corpus of Korean zombie shows. The 12-episode series, which is based on the popular 2009 comics called “In Our School Now,” follows a group of students from the fictional Hyoyama High School who are trying to survive a zombie apocalypse.
Like most zombie shows, We’re All Dead has a similar story line. A girl is bitten by a lab rat, then bites classmates, and before you know it all, the city is invaded by deformed, vicious zombies. But what keeps this play fresh is its background and story.
As the rest of the school goes to make each other zombies, desperate teenage survivors struggle to make ends meet and reach the other end of the epidemic, hoping that adults will come to their rescue. In the survivor group, we meet Wen-joo (Park Ji-ho), who will learn about survival from her firefighter father and loyal Cheong-san (Yoon Chan-young), and the Nam squad leader -ra (Jo Yi- hyun, Na’s little girl) Yeon (Lee Yoo Mi) and athlete Soo Hyuk (Ro Mong) We also meet shooter Ha Ri (Ha Seung Ri) and nicotine addict Mi Jin ( Lee Eun Sang), while a bully Gyu Nam (Yoo In So) makes sure he eventually gets to the top, no matter the cost.
Unlike many zombie dramas, We’re All Dead actually describes how it all started. The show introduces us first to Lee Jin-soo (played by Lee Min-goo), who is also a Hyosan High School student and is often bullied violently until suicide. His father, Lee Byung-chan, holds a Ph.D. in cell biology and as a science teacher at the same school. To give his son the special ability to fight back, he created a substance that preys on human fear and turns it into anger. However, as is usually the case with these things, the experiment turned wrong, and instead of being strong, his son became a zombie.
Meanwhile, Kim Hyun-joo, one of the bullies, is bitten by a sick laboratory hamster. When Li Bingcan found her in the school lab, he tied her up and gagged her. However, it eventually escaped and the virus started to spread. In one afternoon alone, Xiaoshan High School was thrown into chaos. Eventually, the scientist realized that the only cure for the virus was to destroy the host.
The zombies in “We All Die” have a high sense of smell and hearing. Those infected with the Jonas virus, as Lee Byung-chan and Detective Jae-ik say, are medically dead. Their hearts stop beating, but the virus stimulates the brain’s legs and moves their bodies. Weaker humans will create weaker zombies, but the flexibility of breaking down zombies’ bones and their decision to eat the brain make them more terrifying than their human hosts. There is also an interesting twist where some people react differently to the virus. Instead of turning into zombies, they are half-human, half-zombie, or “hambie” as Dae-soo decides to call him that.
Did you know that students are not children, or adults? Those are exactly those hambies. They are not human beings or monsters, possessing all the powers of zombies while maintaining brain functioning. They are not necessarily immune to the virus, nor are they asymptomatic, whatever military scientists speculate. Hambies are also hungry for human flesh, but unlike normal zombies, this hunger is not insatiable. Also, hambies can create other hambies by biting them. Lee Byeong-chan described hambies in his video diary as a result of Jonas virus interacting with antibodies. Viruses evolve as a result of this interaction, and as a result antibodies lose their targets. In most cases, the virus kills people and takes over their bodies. So, for whatever intent and purpose, hambies are like a new human species.
The most exciting part of most zombie stories is the initial destructive decline of civilization, and fortunately, that’s the whole focus here. We see a lot of movies about zombies, but only a few feature students as main characters. It deliberately frames the end of the world from the perspective of teenagers, because even if politicians and army chiefs don’t realize it, their days are numbered, so they don’t have to clean up mess. The kids will, and they certainly won’t be right. In the midst of fear and destruction, youthful circumstances open up opportunities for puberty and budding love.
Under the influence of hormones, the students’ over-reaction to the situation intensified the mood of the show. In enclosed places such as schools where teenagers congregate, they must survive on their own. They have to escape their zombie friends. That’s what separates “We All Die” from other zombie tokens and makes it fun and fresh.
“We’re All Dead” also paints a broader picture of society, depicting the chaos of government quarantine facilities and the authorities’ heroic attempt to draw up an infection control plan. He uses the horrific image of zombies to elaborate and explore topics such as school bullying, social media harassment, class partitions, teenage pregnancy, student mental health, exam stress and classic company betrayal. Theater not only provides space for entertainment, but also space for social reflection. “We live in a violent system. People like me can’t change the system. That’s why I decided to change my son,” said Lee Byung-chan. Perhaps the world could have survived had bullying not been?
Within a day of its official release on January 28, “We Are All Dead” reached No. 1 on the Netflix charts in 25 countries worldwide and the fourth Korean drama topped the chart. Following the worldwide success of Squid Game, Hellbound and Arcane, the series topped the world charts. After spending two full years trying to make 12 episodes, the series definitely deserves more.
Anyone can bet, after watching We All Die, that you will either love him for his arrogance or hate him for boredom. Either way, the show will leave you with impact for a long time.