Top image: Netflix
Heroic sacrifices. Moral quandaries. The nature of humanity. You’ll find all these and more on Netflix’s latest Korean zombie drama, All of Us Are Dead. On its face, It’s so much more than just a show about a plague of undead terrorizing the living—it’s a commentary on the pandemic, it shows the best and worst of humanity as civilisation crumbles around it, and it makes us wonder if we are any different from zombies if we give in to our baser instincts.
It would be fairly novel if not for the fact that we’ve seen it umpteenth times before. Train to Busan, Kingdom, Rampant, Seoul Station; the list goes on. Even the premise is nothing new—it’s a zombie apocalypse with high school students. You have zombies, half-zombies, and animal zombies. You could make a drinking game out of it—take a shot every time you see a tired zombie trope appear in All of Us Are Dead and you’ll be drunk by the end of episode 1.
The zombie drama genre is oversaturated. And All of Us Are Dead is the straw that broke the camel zombie’s back.
That’s not to knock the quality of All of Us Are Dead. The production quality is (mostly) good. If it had come out two or three years ago, it would probably be more highly lauded. But it didn’t. It came out after a deluge of zombie dramas (does that mean that we’re facing a zombie apocalypse of zombie dramas?). It feels derivative, mainly because we’re so familiar with zombie show tropes that we can predict what will happen next.
The students are also fairly intelligent but seem to lose all common sense just so the plot can endanger them with yet another zombie attack (like when they come up with a harebrained scheme to escape using sports equipment cages). You’re not sure whether to laugh and cry at some of their antics.
That’s not to say there aren’t any moments of brilliance in the show. Yang Dae-su (Im Jae-hyuk) comes up with a hilarious ditty on par with The Witcher’s Toss A Coin To Your Witcher, and it’s all about food and fried chicken and the atrocity of mock meats.
All of Us Are Dead also manages to eke out some shocking deaths (in a show that’s already full of death), with some surprising survivors and unexpected fatalities.
Then there’s the whole Lord of the Flies flavour of the show, which lays bare the naked humanity of people in the form of innocent (and not-so-innocent) young students.
Nevertheless, it is a Korean drama at heart, which means that you get teachers who look the same age as students, some bouts of melodrama (which can be out of place given they’re in a life or death situation), and the fact that the female leads rarely get injuries on their face while the males can get wounded anywhere (including the face).
In fact, the ladies of the show are generally in pristine condition (face-wise), despite fighting off zombies and running for their lives all the time. Well, at least they’re not in ridiculously high heels.
Pacing-wise, it is rather amazing how they managed to spend twelve whole episodes being stuck in a school. It’s a school infested with zombies, sure, but just how large is this school? Again, this goes back to the typical zombie tropes—most storylines consist of a bad idea, followed by bad execution, a noble (but usually needless) sacrifice before they retreat. Rinse and repeat.
Look. Clearly, the Korean zombie drama wave has run its course. All of Us Are Dead is the unfortunate victim of this trend, being the latest zombie of a zombie show that brings nothing fresh to the table.
Once upon a time, hearts may have been moved by the trauma that mere students (played by young adults) have to contend in a zombie apocalypse. Now, it just seems like a commercial cash grab to get good-looking stars to play characters who are ten years younger than them.
The world needs a new trend—stat. Or rather, we need to stop mercilessly overdoing anything popular to the point where it becomes nothing more than a rotting zombie corpse. I think Hellbound and Squid Game are great show concepts, but I fear the day when we see an overabundance of spiritual dramas regarding judgment and the afterlife or lethal competitions that are a critique of society’s failures.
All of Us Are Dead, you were the tipping point. You’ve put to eternal rest all zombie dramas. If not you, then the next Korean zombie flick would have been the fatal blow. I wished I’d met you earlier. But now, all I can do is to run from the endless horde of zombie shows to come.
All of Us Are Dead
Directors: Lee Jae-kyoo and Kim Nam-su
Writer: Chun Sung-il
Cast: Park Ji-hu (Nam On-jo), Yoon Chan-young (Lee Cheong-san), Cho Yi-hyun (Choi Nam-ra), Lomon (Lee Su-hyeok), Yoo In-soo (Yoon Gwi-nam), Lee Yoo-mi (Lee Na-yeon), and Im Jae-hyuk (Yang Dae-su).
Running Time: 12 episodes of 53-72 min
Genres: Zombie apocalypse, Horror, Teen drama, Thriller