Do you enjoy Korean historical dramas? Are you captivated by the courtly intrigue and beautiful costumes of shows such as Jewel In The Palace and Moonlight Drawn By Clouds? Or perhaps you are a fan of zombie flicks. Are you excited at the thought of gory scenes such as those found in The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later?
Have you ever thought to yourself: “Oh, if only someone out there were to unite these two genres, in the unlikeliest combination since Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra?”
Well if you have, congratulations. Your prayers have been answered. Meet Rampant, a zombie flick set in the Joseon Dynasty of old Korea. Is it a great watch? Not quite. But it’s certainly unique.
Directed by Kim Sung-hoon, Rampant is a film by the same production company behind (no surprise) the other popular Korean zombie flick, Train To Busan.
It tells the story of Prince Lee Chung (Hyun Bin), a prince who returns to his homeland of Joseon to fulfil the last wishes of his brother Lee Young (Kim Tae-woon). Lee Chung, however is an irresponsible, womanising rascal, and performing royal duties ranks very low on his list of favourite things to do.
The country, however, is under threat. King Lee Jo (Kim Eui-sung) feels insecure in his throne due to an uprising by his citizens, as well as a conspiracy by his ministers, led by the scheming Kim Ja-joon (Jang Dong-gun). Many are unhappy that the nation is subject to the whims of the Qing Dynasty from China.
All these challenges, however, are soon undone, due to the discovery of a mysterious plague. Victims who succumb rise again as “demons”, (as what everyone in the show calls them) and develop a monstrous lust for blood.
Soon, swarms of these demons are sweeping the nation, and Prince Lee Chung must convince everyone to fight them before it is too late. On his side are the action girl Deok-hee (Lee Sun-bin) and fighter Park Jong-sa (Jo Woo-jin).
Hold on, you might remark. Why does this sound familiar? A kingdom divided because of political tensions, and an outsider who must convince them to stand against a rising supernatural threat? This is Korean Game Of Thrones!
And in a sense you are right. Just like that other show set in Westeros (is this show then, Easteros? Sorry bad joke), Rampant takes its time to first introduce its characters, before throwing them all together in a huge conflict. Thankfully it takes much faster than seven seasons for everyone to meet.
It can get a little confusing in the beginning, figuring out who is related to whom and who is conspiring against what, but fortunately, everything mostly clicks as the plot develops. Also interspersed throughout the movie are themes of kingship and duty, and the responsibilities of a ruler, which are a nice touch.
Acting is good – Hyun Bin is effective as the tormented Lee Chung, who has to step up his prince game to deal with things way beyond what he is used to. Also doing well is Jang, who manages to keep his character relatively grounded, despite him being a rather over-the-top villain.
Where the movie shines are its action scenes. The zombies in this film are suitably horrific, their bodies twisted and their movements warped as they seize upon their victims. It’s enough to give small children nightmares. And who knew that the sight of zombies in ancient Korean clothing was actually pretty cool?
The zombie elements however, can feel a bit generic. Apart from the period setting, there is little to distinguish Rampant from every other zombie movie out there. And even the setting is underutilised – it would have been great if the movie had taken more advantage of its unique Korean culture in the way the characters dealt with the undead.
It would also have been nice if the story had been expanded a little. Things like the conspiracy against the King, and the tensions in the Joseon Dynasty relationship are quite interesting, but are all tossed out the window after the zombie attacks, never referred to again.
Apart from Prince Lee Chung, we are given very little background about most of the characters. A lot of them have big moments, but it is hard to be invested in their fates as we barely know anything about them. The biggest victim in this regard is Deok-hee, who seems to be in the story mostly for a few action scenes and to be a potential love interest.
Despite these issues, however, Rampant is quite a fun film. Is it better than Train To Busan? Not really. But it is still a rather entertaining, if slightly flawed, watch.
You thought Michonne from The Walking Dead was good at killing zombies with a blade? These old school Korean warriors will show everyone how it’s done!
Director: Kim Sung-hoon
Cast: Hyun Bin, Lee Sun-bin, Jang Dong-gun