Is Nathan Hartono A Good Zombie Stripper?
Image credit: Yahoo

Warning: Spoilers ahead (!!)

When Ghost Meets Zombie is a romantic-comedy directed by Han Yew Kwang. It stars Nathan Hartono as a hunky Thai villager, who dies saving his village from a flood and comes back to life as a Zombie Stripper-cum-Gigolo, under the control of a nefarious Spirit Medium (Gurmit Singh) who pimps him out every night to horny Thai aunties.

One day, his life is turned upside down when he encounters Zhen Zhen (Ferlyn G), a Singaporean beauty queen contestant just passing through his village.

After saving her fellow competitor from rape, Zhen Zhen falls into a lake of—wait for it—piranhas, dies, and comes back to life as a wandering ghost. Finding Nathan Hartono trapped in a non-consensual BDSM relationship, she possesses him and smuggles him back to Singapore, where she must fulfil her dreams of winning a beauty pageant.

“Or else you will turn into a cloud of black dust!”, cackles the messenger from Hell, his head poking out from a drain cover.

As the acting debut of both Nathan Hartono and Ferlyn G, both formerly singers, this movie disappoints. Though billed as a romantic-comedy, it neit—

I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore.

When Ghost Meets Zombie is shit. It is so shit that it makes Jack Neo look like Alfonso Cuaron. I wish I could review it as a movie, but it’s no movie. It’s more like a last-minute abortion performed in the backstreets of Karachi by Edward Scissorhands.

A bloody mess, in other words, with little to redeem it.

For its entire runtime of 108 minutes, I counted about 4 laughs from the audience, one of which came out like a nervous fart during the movie’s best part: its blooper reel. For everything else, it’s a nails-on-chalkboard cringe-symphony of flat jokes, plodding dialogue, and sentimental cliches written by 11-year-old kids—15 minutes before the teacher asks them to hand in their homework.

Nathan Hartono was probably the best, because he didn’t wear a shirt, or speak.

Image credit: Syfy
For intentional rather than inadvertent zombie horror, shamble over instead to Netflix’s Kingdom, a South Korean production with a deceptively bland title.

Kingdom, a.k.a Horse to Busan, is a medieval zombie apocalypse set in Korea’s Joseon period. It is best described as Walking Dead meets Yanxi Palace, sprinkled with a dash of road-trip buddy comedy for good measure. Although it’s 4 or 5 episodes short of a proper season, viewers are already comparing it to Game Of Thrones. And rightly so.

The story follows Crown Prince Yi Chang (Ju Ji-hoon), who is the heir to Korea … in theory. In reality, he is shut out of power by the powerful Haewon Cho Clan and not even allowed to see his own father, the King, who has all but vanished after a sudden illness.

To take matters back into his own hands, he leaves the Capital with his personal bodyguard Moo young (Kim Sang-Ho), determined to find the truth about what happened to The King.  Or try, anyway. Instead, they find themselves caught out as a secret plague spreads across the rural population, turning the peasants into … you know the rest.

As zombie apocalypses go, Kingdom doesn’t deviate much from the usual formula. What distinguishes it from the mass of forgettable zombie shows is a) the unique historical setting and b) the painstaking effort put into world-building; with so much realistic detail that it makes Game Of Thrones look like a Lego playset.

The show is more than just royal palaces and scheming eunuchs. There are one-donkey provincial towns with corrupt magistrates, mud-strewn hovels populated with hungry peasants, some of whom are greedy amoral killers whilst others display a surly fuck-you defiance in adversity.

Even the soldiers are differentiated from one another: the well-armed, disciplined royal guards are as far removed from the reluctant provincial conscripts as a prince from a peasant.

All the detail serves to create not a paper-mâché backdrop, but a living feudal society; an intricate machine with class and gender relations … which makes it all the more interesting when shit finally hits the fan.

In memorable sequences of carnage, the world-building pays off. The nobles are able to escape by ship or horse, while the peasants fleeing on foot are bitten en masse. Government officials hide in army barracks and bar the door for fear of infection. The trained soldiers are able to offer some resistance to the zombie horde, but peasants hastily armed with sticks crumble at the first sight of bared teeth.

And in the midst of all the chaos is our Crown Prince, trying to survive the ferocious zombie attacks and even more ferocious political conspiracy.

In other words, Kingdom works because it understands what makes zombie movies tick. It understands that zombies are not very interesting by themselves; what’s interesting is the way people and power relationships change when a horde of monsters come running at your kampung at 30km/h. It knows that one man’s zombie apocalypse can be another’s golden opportunity, and how even armageddon will discriminate.

Above all, it understands how humans are already tearing into other humans, even without a zombie virus. Because a zombie attack is nothing compared to the horrible shit that sane people will do to each other, in the name of self-preservation.

None of this is new, but it’s what differentiates a good zombie movie (28 Days Later …) from a bad zombie movie (World World Z). Thankfully for everyone, Kingdom belongs firmly in the former category. With its stellar cinematography, unique setting and nail-biting action, it shows us that even mindless zombie fun is a bloody art.


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