Over the past decade, it is undeniable that South Korea’s influence in global pop culture has surged. K-pop’s catchy melodies and K-dramas’ intense storylines have captivated audiences worldwide. A trend that has garnered international attention is the emergence of zombie themes in Korean entertainment.
Let’s take a look at this fascinating phenomenon and discover how zombies have become a significant part of South Korea’s cultural export.
Emergence of Zombies in Korean Film
The turning point for zombie narratives in South Korean cinema came in 2016 with the release of Train to Busan.
The film, which unfolds aboard a train during a sudden zombie apocalypse, struck a chord with viewers.
The combination of action, complex characters, and sharp societal critique set against the backdrop of a zombie outbreak provided a fresh perspective on the genre.
This commercial and critical success paved the way for more creative movie-making in the genre.
Train to Busan was followed by Yeon Sang-Ho’s sequel, Peninsula in 2020. It expanded the universe of its predecessor, focusing on survivors attempting to escape a quarantined Korea, now a wasteland.
This film proved that the zombie genre could be an effective vehicle for exploring themes such as survival, morality, and the human condition under extreme circumstances.
Historical Setting Meets Zombie Horde
Historical dramas, or sageuks, have been a staple of Korean television for many years. However, the idea of combining this traditional genre with zombie horror was a relatively new concept.
This fusion first came to prominence with the 2019 Netflix Original series Kingdom. Set in Korea’s Joseon dynasty, Kingdom incorporates political intrigue and social commentary amidst a rapidly spreading zombie outbreak.
Kingdom blends unique Korean culture with familiar zombie elements, offering an innovative genre mix to audiences worldwide.
Its success spawned a second season, a testament to the potential of the zombie genre in a historical context.
Another historical zombie narrative is the 2018 movie Rampant. Set during the Joseon dynasty, the film expertly weaves political corruption and power struggles with a zombie invasion. This demonstrates how effectively the genre can be adapted to various settings and narratives.
Zombies in Modern Korean Dramas
Zombie themes have also found their way into contemporary Korean dramas. The 2020 K-drama Zombie Detective offered a fresh take on the genre, infusing humour and mystery.
The plot follows a zombie who, having lost all memory of his former life, assumes the identity of a detective. The drama provides a satirical commentary on society through a distinctly Korean twist on the zombie genre.
All of Us Are Dead, based on the webtoon Now at Our School, depicts a zombie apocalypse in a high school setting. This series, while delivering the expected horror and suspense, also delves into the trials and tribulations of adolescence.
All of Us Are Dead shows that the zombie genre thrives in today with fans eagerly awaiting the second season.
Taking things a step further, zombies also feature prominently in both seasons of The Zone: Survival Mission. The show’s three hosts are put into ingenious ‘missions’ as they try their best to survive until the end, often to hilarious effect.
Zombies in Korean entertainment have spurred creative storytelling, societal theme exploration, and a refresh of traditional genres.
From films to TV series, the innovative use of the zombie theme demonstrates the industry’s versatility and its ability to attract a global audience. This success effectively expanded the genre’s horizons – Proving that these narratives can serve as more than just vessels for horror and action, including as profound examinations of the human condition.
As Korean entertainment continues to gain popularity worldwide, it’s clear that its innovative and unique handling of zombies will remain a vital part of its appeal.
Besides the titles named above, here are a few more zombie-themed shows for you to sink your teeth into.
The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale (2019)
Director Lee Min-Jae masterfully blends zombies and comedy together in this movie. Viewers follow the Park family as they navigate through a zombie outbreak caused by a rogue pharmaceutical company.
In the midst of this chaos, the family seizes the opportunity to turn their bizarre situation into a unique money-making scheme.
Shut-in gamer, Joon-Woo wakes up one morning to discover a world turned upside down. Faced with a mysterious virus that transforms those infected into man-eating creatures, Jun-Woo barricades himself in his apartment. He captures his emotional journey through video logs, which become increasingly intense as food supplies dwindle and loneliness begins to take its toll.
Just as he’s on the brink of succumbing to despair, he discovers another survivor, Yu-bin residing across the street. If you love zombies in Korean dramas #Alive is not to be missed!
The Cursed: Dead Man’s Prey (2021)
Im Jin-hee, a reporter specializing in social issues, discusses the case of a prominent businessman’s murder on a radio show after finding herself involved in the investigation. A caller unexpectedly interrupts the broadcast, claims responsibility for the murder, and requests an exclusive interview with Jin-hee, demanding it to be live-streamed on the internet.
Jin-hee agrees to meet the alleged murderer Park Yong-Ho, a seemingly ordinary man with one extraordinary detail: his official records state that he died three months ago.
Happiness ( 2021 )
Happiness centres on the residents of an apartment complex dealing with a zombie outbreak during a government-imposed quarantine.
The series constantly keeps viewers on their toes with its tight pacing and unexpected plot twists. We eventually learn that the event was due to a botched medical treatment, leading to the outbreak of a virus.
If you enjoyed this article, you should check out our list of favourite dystopian K-drama series to watch.