Bio Zombie (1998)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Zombi 3

Zombie 4: After Death

Zombie High

Zombie Lake

Bio Zombie

Lava LampLava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

When this restaurant says "Industrial
microwave in use," they really mean it.
Can a movie pull it out at the last minute? Can a film's ending really make that much of a difference?

The Hong Kong movie Bio Zombie is obviously inspired by the American and Italian zombie movies of the 1980s, and front-loaded with Chinese comedy. At times the flick bogs down with tedious comic social commentary, but towards the end it picks up, and the ending is something we haven't quite seen in a zombie movie before. Maybe it's just that we recently watched Zombi 3 and Zombie 4: After Death, but it was refreshing to see a zombie movie with an ending that didn't make us cringe or shake our heads in confusion.

Bio Zombie is set almost entirely in a pedestrian mall in Hong Kong. In that respect, it plays like an edgy HK version of Mallrats. But before we get to those scenes, we must sit through the obligatory origin of the zombies. Iraqi agents, realizing that George Bush would never look for weapons of mass destruction in Hong Kong cinema, have put a deadly bio weapon in bottles of Lucozade -- which is redundant, as you'd know if you ever drank a bottle of Lucozade. You've probably guessed that the bio weapon turns people into zombies, and the filmmakers adhere to the old saw that zombie infection can be spread by the bite of those already infected.

Rejects from a John Woo
casting call.
At the center of the story are two low-level criminals named Woody Invincible (Jordon Chan) and Crazy Bee (Sam Lee), at least according to the English language subtitles on our el cheapo Hong Kong DVD. Woody and Bee owe a certain amount of inspiration from Mallrats' Brodie and Quint, but they are substantially more grounded in reality and are therefore less entertaining. (Amusingly enough for the film geeks in the audience, however, they work at a store that sells bootlegged movies and video games.) While running an errand for their boss, the two delinquents accidentally run over a young man. Naturally this young man is a lackey in a secret conspiracy to create zombie soldiers, and naturally he was fleeing from a "prototype" run amok. Even more naturally, his dying wish is for something to drink -- and look! There's a handy bottle of Lucozade in his brief case!

The even darker side of
multi-level marketing.
Not wanting to get pinched for vehicular manslaughter, Bee and Woody dump the dying man into the trunk of the car and return to the mall, where there are several minor soap operas going on. Woody Invincible's aspirations extend as far as a pair of underpants belonging to Rolls (Angela Tong), who is also being wooed by the geeky cook from the mall's sushi restaurant. Both suitors' advances are interrupted by the arrival of the boss, who has his churlish wife in tow. Thrown into the mix are some oafish security guards whom everyone is trying to avoid, and who will be predictably worthless when the zombies invade.

Occasionally, even dermatologists must
consider euthanizing their patients.
The synopsis above is considerably more expedient than the film itself, which dwells on the antics of the main characters for far too long. Woody and Bee spend a seeming eternity on various scams, doing their best to placate their communal sense of insecurity by taking advantage of women, customers, their employer, and random passers-by. We were a little confused about the prominence of these distasteful thugs, especially given the way they shrug off their involvement in an accidental death. Fortunately, there wasn't much more time to contemplate these matters, as the zombies invade when the man from the roadway emerges from the trunk in full-blown flesh-eater mode and promptly infects several mallwalkers with his Lucozade cooties -- and the zombie germ.

If only this sort of help were available
for use while dating.
The filmmakers, recognizing that there are few new things for zombies to do in terms of action, explore the possibility that the undead might retain something of their human personalities. What might easily become a film comprising a series of chase scenes turns out to be a surprisingly character-driven story. Woody and Bee may not be as selfish as we first thought (a small consolation for our initial dislike of them), and few of the mall's inhabitants escape the ordeal without gaining new perspective on their everyday lives. An amusing (if overly long) sequence in which the sushi chef protects Rolls from a zombified football team makes us think that there may be more to zombies than mere shuffling and biting.

We don't know what the rest of it says,
but there's a babe, "Hello Kitty," and
a hack saw. We're in.
As the movie approaches a climax, however, it falls back into the familiar pattern of a small group of characters who run, fight, and occasionally die as the living dead replicate and stumble around. In one amusing attempt to liven things up, the filmmakers run heads-up displays on the characters as if they were inside a video game, then follows it up with a sequence where video game icons appear in the corner of the screen to indicate various obstacles. ("Reload!") Included in this is a little montage of mini-biographies which probably would have been entertaining if we had been able to read them.

We won't spoil the ending in case you manange to see Bio Zombie for yourself, but we applaud the fact the filmmakers crafted a conclusion that was suitably nihilistic without falling back on the usual lame shock tactics we have come to expect in the final shots of a zombie movie. It may not excuse the film's laborious set-up, but with any luck it will help you forget it.

Review date: 12/11/2003

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