Bio-Zombie (1998) review

The second-best ‘zombies let loose in a shopping mall’ movie ever made, the Hong Kong horror comedy Bio-Zombie came out before all things zombified came back in vogue, and is a total riot. Similar in tone to Edgar Wright’s later Shaun of the Dead, the film has a lot of fun goofing off zombie tropes and expectations whilst also clearly in love with its ancestors. There’s lots of cool gore but also some surprisingly poignant moments – you might not expect that from the beginning, given that right from the off there’s an anarchic, hilariously scrappy approach, as our two lead characters/idiots yak over the film’s own opening credits, which they appear to be watching inside the movie we’re watching.

No lie, the cocky, arrogant and very shouty Woody Invincible (Jordan Chan) and his cocky, arrogant and very shouty deputy Crazy Bee (Sam Lee) are proper slackers/jerks straight outta Clerks/Mallrats who run a pirate DVD stall in the local mall. Don’t like what they’ve sold you? Think it’s a badly shot bootleg? Get lost, but take a couple of pornos with you on your way out, just to shut you up. When they’re not selling hooky films, they’re gambling, mugging, ogling women and winding up the local security element. Amazingly, these two remain strangely likeable. Maybe because they’re just babies underneath all that swagger. Their attempts to talk tough towards bigger, tougher men fail miserably. Even the bit when they mug beauty salon worker Rolls (Angela Tong) shows just how incompetent they really are. Even when Bee admits that the one thing on his bucket list is to kill another person, I thought aw, bless him. Rolls, by the way, is blatantly coveted by the sweet sushi restaurant worker Loi (Emotion Cheung), and it’s killing him to see her out on a date with the bounder Woody, even if she’s only agreed to go out with him in order to get him drunk and fess up to his earlier crime. There’s also the bloke who runs the mobile phone shop who is such a dick to his wife that he comes off as the film’s real villain. Anyone who boo-hissed at Dylan Moran’s David in Shaun of the Dead will find plenty of cowardice and outright twattery to despise here.

Oh yeah, there’s a zombie element! Forgot to mention that. Turns out that the government have got their hands on some nasty bioweapon that can transform its subject into a fully fledged, paid-up member of the walking dead, and when some suits observe an already transformed zombie on display in a warehouse, things go appallingly wrong. The zombie escapes, kills a few people and the one survivor who flees the scene with a sample of the bioweapon is knocked down by Woody and Bee’s car. Situation follows crisis follows misunderstanding, and what follows is a small-scale zombie siege back at the mall. It’s a camp, gooey, energetic and often very funny ride – the characters are engaging, the blue-tinged, mirror-walled (there’s a great split-screen reveal gag) décor give off a colourful, vivid atmosphere and there’s even a sweetness to some of the quieter moments, not to mention a willingness to take no prisoners on the body count that makes for some surprising and genuinely effective dispatchings. As for the splatter, it’s gory but never nasty, even if there is a nod to one of Dario Argento’s more disgusting moments from an earlier film of his (hint: it’s from Opera), the comedy is the kind of highly strung, manic kind that fans of Return of the Living Dead and Braindead will appreciate and there’s even a video game influence during a bit when the film adopts what I can only describe as a character statistics sequence later on. Director/writer Wilson Yip and co-writers Matt Chow and Siu Man Sing are having an absolute ball with their inventive set-pieces, hyper-violence and gleeful energy.

As a horror film Bio-Zombie is not scary, but it’s not really aiming for that – what it is is exciting, surprising and very funny. Genre fans will love it, and even in this day and age of zombie overload, it stands up very well. I’ve only seen the subtitled version, but apparently the US dub is hilariously silly. Also, did a particular energy drink manufacturer realise that their product was going to be used like this? Admittedly, the film doesn’t paint the drink itself as bad, but I certainly didn’t fancy any glucose-fuelled refreshment after it was all over!


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