Night of the Undead
죽지않는 인간들의 밤 (Jukji-aneun ingandeul-ui bam)
South Korea, 2020, 107’, Korean
Directed by: Shin Jung-won
Script: Jang Hang-jun, Shin Jung-won
Photography (color): Kim Chang-gyeom
Editing: Kim Woo-hyun
Production Design: Jeong Seong-gyun
Music: Kim Jun-seong, Jo Ran
Producers: Baek Jin-dong, Lee Myeong-jae, Shin Ye-rim
Cast: Lee Jung-hyun (So-hee), Kim Sung-oh (Man-gil), Seo Young-hee (Se-ra), Yang Dong-geun (Doctor Jang), Lee Mi-do (Yang-seon), Kim Seo-won (Seo-won), Joo Bo-bi (Kyung-hee)
Date of First Release in Territory: September 29th, 2020
So-hee (Lee Jung-hyun, Peninsula) is a thirtysomething housewife married to the handsome and wealthy Man-gil (Kim Sung-oh, Secret Zoo), a gourmand and a saccharine Prince Charming. One day she stumbles on evidence that he has been two- (three-, four-, multiple-) timing her. Despondent and enraged, she seeks help from a private investigator Dr. Jang (Yang Dong-geun, Fengshui) who for some reason has a hairstyle that makes him look like broccoli (?!). Dr. Jang convinces So-hee that her husband is a member of a near-immortal, (literally) blue-blooded alien species called the Unbreakables (?!?), whose habits include guzzling diesel fuel at gas stations. He also says she is in line to be murdered so he can continue his Bluebeard lifestyle.
Apparently quite a few too-good-to-be-true tall and handsome Korean men are in reality members of the Unbreakables, including the movie star Jung Woo-sung (?!?!). Seeking help from Dr. Jang and her high school friends, the butcher-shop-owning divorcée Se-ra (Seo Young-hee, The Wrath) and vainglorious B-movie actress Yang-seon (Lee Mi-do, The Beauty Inside), So-hee plots revenge. However, Man-gil is more difficult to kill than a cockroach in a rundown motel.
Night of the Undead marks the return of writer-director Shin Jung-won, and those familiar with his, urr, “tastes” would not be surprised at all by the general wackiness of the above plot description. While Shin’s sui generis wackoid sensibility displayed in his previous films – who could ever forget Chaw’s wild pig hunter’s bulldog telepathically engaging in droll conversation with his owner… in Russian? Or a teenage psychic carrying a row of cheese sticks like ninja shuriken inside her vest in Ghost Sweepers? – is still (thankfully) intact in Night, his latest project is much more slickly put together, with elegant production design and relatively sophisticated special effects.
The plot is also unusual for Shin, possibly from the influence of co-screenwriter Jang Hang-jun (Forgotten), in that it focuses on the rage of three women toward their male counterparts. As such, there is a mismatch between pseudo-Men in Black shenanigans involving alien invaders, and the domestic comedy thriller in which spouses make gooey eyes at one another while hiding a hatchet behind their backs.
Which is not to say Shin’s wrangling of main actors is not good. The main characters are perfectly cast. Lee Jung-hyun is hilarious and sympathetic as a pretty but mousy, shrinking-violet housewife. Seo brings pathos and humanity to a role that could have easily been a cartoon-version of a hard-drinking, hatchet-wielding “tough auntie.” Kim Sung-oh is also a revelation as a brown-eyed, extravagantly expressive “alien” husband, displaying a dancer’s grace while listening to Turandot or nimbly running after the panicked women in a van a la Six Million Dollar Man. Most of the film’s drop-dead hilarious moments are supplied by Yang Dong-geun, who spews his expository dialogue with all the creamy flair of an MC at a dog show praising the insouciance and poise of a Pomeranian.
Night of the Undead is a one weirded-out SF comedy, plenty entertaining and uproariously funny for those with the right sensibility. It feels for all intents and purposes like a modern update of those ‘70s-‘80s European SF-horror hybrids in which glamorous and/or stressed women, played by such actresses as Mimsy Farmer or Carroll Baker, are menaced by aliens, vampires, or werewolves. If this description strikes a chord in your heart, you are in for a treat. Even if it merely makes you scratch your head, you could still try it out to experience one of the most distinctive voices that still exist in Korean genre cinema.
Shin Jung-won made a splash with his feature debut How to Catch a Virgin Ghost (2004), an unusual mix of horror and black comedy that rode positive word-of-mouth to a box office score of 2 million admissions. His second feature Chaw (2009), about a giant wild boar that terrorizes a rural village, solidified his reputation for mixing the bizarre, horrific and hilarious. Ghost Sweepers, about a group of shamans and psychics who embark to “clean up” a town overridden by spirits, sold roughly 1 million tickets at the box office in 2012. His fourth film Night of the Undead was released during the pandemic in 2020.
2004 – How to Catch a Virgin Ghost
2009 – Chaw
2012 – Ghost Sweepers
2020 – Night of the Undead