East Asian cinema is renowned for the quality of its genre movies, with Japan and Korea producing some of the scariest horror flicks in the region, terrifying local and international audiences alike.
For years, Japanese and Korean filmmakers have thrilled moviegoers, sending shivers down the spines of horror cinephiles with majors hits, cult favourites and classics like Ju-on: Girl In Black, Whispering Corridors, the record-breaking Ring and popular Grudge trilogy.
The Middle Kingdom and Land of the rising Sun are hotbeds of genre films; Asia’s little shops of horror. The two powerhouse nations are masters of the monster movie.
Taiwan, on the other hand, is the new kid on the block.
An island country off of China’s southeastern coast, Taiwan is more renowned for its exports of hogs, cattle and rabbits than it is celebrated for the quality of its genre movies.
But that may soon change.
Billed as the East Asian state’s very first zombie motion picture, Joe Chein‘s grim and grisly horror flick Zombie 108 is a ghastly and anarchic feature that has generated a considerable amount of buzz, with fans raving about the film online. The movie was screened at this year’s Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, piquing the interest of both critics and gore lovers alike.
Starring beautiful Taiwanese model Yvonne Yao, Chien Jen Hao, Po Tai and Lou Xue Xian, Zombie 108 captures the destruction brought about by the outbreak of a deadly virus that wreaks havoc on Tapei, turning innocent civilians into bloodthirsty, flesh-eating zombies. The film follows the ensuing chaotic events as the Taiwanese military attempts to evacuate the capital, only to get mired in the ongoing violent disputes between armed Ximending street gangs and local SWAT officers. Making matters worse, a severely deformed, loathsome and abominable sociopath with a basement full of sex slaves seeks to take full advantage of the carnage, kidnapping women, raping and torturing them.
Directed by the young and ambitious Chein, Zombie 108 was brought to life thanks to the contributions of 900-plus fans who helped fund the film. It comes as no surprise, then, that the movie is bogged down by a relatively small budget and less-than-accomplished filmmaking.
Despite that, the film still has its appeal and merits.
The movie makes good use of the often-recycled disaster narrative, treading the same ground as chaotic films and TV shows (like 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead) set in dystopian surroundings which pit their protagonists against the unforgiving elements, setting up a grand and blood-gushing survival feature that tests the will and resilience of the movie’s primary characters while challenging the viewer’s appetite for gore.
While most horrors and thrillers are highly unoriginal, Zombie 108 makes interesting alterations to the archetypal monster movie; its subplots of cops versus robbers and mass-raping sociopath on the loose provide a welcome departure from the usual.
Unfortunately, those very same subplots engender much of the film’s flaws. Chein, the young director, splashes blood, rips body parts and hurls flesh in practically every single scene, drowning any semblance of a coherent plot or storyline in gratuitous violence and dismembered limbs. The time lapses, flashbacks and flash forwards Chein employs also upset the flow of the movie, leaving you confounded as to what, exactly, is going on.
As with most films heavy on tension, Chien crams Zombie 108 with several heated, theatrical and high-stakes scenes, turning the drama into melodrama.
Infuriatingly, the film also does the very same thing most action movies do, playing out intimate and romantic exchanges in the most unrealistic, unbelievable and dangerous of contexts. In one scene, a SWAT officer asks his female partner — presumably his undercover lover — why she wouldn’t return any of his calls. This would be perfectly fine, say, on a nice warm evening patrolling the beat, but considering the two love-birds were caught in the jaws of a life-threatening afternoon shift on the run from ravenous zombies, that particular over-wrought and over-dramatic exchange really grated against any sense of believable storytelling. Where other directors might get away with such sentimentality, Chein is let down on one too many occasions by the sometime substandard performances of his actors.
Still, it should be emphasised that Zombie 108 does have its charms.
Die-hard fans of horror movies will appreciate much of the film. The movie really is gruesome and gratifyingly disgusting. The makeup and screen effects could have been better, but they are effective. As you take in the nasty mess that is Chein’s work, your stomach turns as a smile sweeps across your face. Zombie 108 just oozes that pulp fan-boy quality that should appease many.
Surprisingly, for a movie made to terrify audiences, Zombie 108 also has its comedic moments. At times, the humour of the film threatens to overshadow the terror, with the it’s best character, Big Boss, generating the most laughs. There are Kevin Smith gags and Star Jones jokes, and even a few unintended hilarious sequences that just leave you tickled silly. Best of all, though, are the villainous quips of Big Boss and his gang.
Marked by one or two scenes of poor editing, at times, Zombie 108 does look like Taiwan’s first zombie movie. It may seem totally amateur at points, but several exciting and well put-together scenes suggest that the film just exudes a certain appealing amateurish charm.
Zombie 108 is not a masterpiece or classic, but, for the burgeoning Taiwanese horror movie scene, it’s a good start. Let’s see how Part 2 works out.
Zombie 108 is now available now on DVD [Buy via Amazon]
Actors: Yvonne Yao, Morris Rong, Tai Bo, Jack Kao, Dennis To
Directors: Joe Chien
DVD Release Date: 30 July 2012
Run Time: 83 minutes
Special Features: Dolby Digital Mandarin Language 5.1 & 2.0 // English Subtitles // Trailer Gallery // Making Of // Zombie Photo Gallery