When Joo Dong-geun created the webtoon Now At Our School in 2009, he probably never envisioned his creative work would be adapted by Netflix into a live-action series that would receive a 100 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Directed by Lee Jae-gyu, the newest K-Original All Of Us Are Dead is a 12-episode series that sees a gory and bleak yet moving account of a zombie apocalypse when a group of high school students are left alienated from the rest of the world and must fend off a swarm of ravenous zombies while desperately waiting for help to arrive.
While the pandemic is still rolling, the series somehow seems more relatable and horrifying than ever, with its evacuation camps, isolation centres, virus testing labs and more. Starring Yoon Chang-young, Park Ji Hu, Park Solomon and Cho Yi-hyun in lead roles as the main protagonists, the series is relatively faithful to its 130-episode source material. While the series seems a bit too long with 12 hour-long episodes and could have easily been trimmed down by an episode or two, it takes the timeless sub-genre of horror to unimaginable heights. It is terrifyingly realistic and bleak yet upholds the basic principles of being human amidst an apocalyptic scenario.
It starts out in the Hyosan High School, which functions as a teenage cesspit. With Korean high school students studying hard for the CSAT (an extremely difficult and nail-biting college entrance examination) that will determine their future, the series also focuses on the bullying, revenge porn and suicide that have plagued the Korean and Japanese teenage demographic for the longest time due to the unbelievable pressure. The director deftly introduces the trope of class divide among students where the wealthy look down upon those who are supported by welfare.
However, they are all forced to be in the same room and stripped down to their basic human senses when a deadly biologically-engineered virus, termed the Jonas Virus, overtakes Hyosan and begins to spread rapidly at an incredible pace, turning the human population into drooling, undead zombies. After a riveting pilot sets the entire plot in motion, the episodes show a group of students fighting hard for survival. With burgeoning feelings and love triangles, they are also plagued by internal conflicts that include an entitled wealthy kid turning into a murderer to get rid of a “welfie”. The episodes show how humanity is compromised in the wake of paranoia and survival as the group gets eventually outnumbered by the hundreds of zombies.
A brutal commentary on the priority of the government and the military, the students are left stranded by the military, who come to collect a laptop containing crucial information regarding the virus from the school. They then understand how alienated they are and fight harder to survive. While several scenes are insanely graphic, the overall undertone of seeing your loved ones turn into a grotesque monster is portrayed delicately and with sentimentality. The theme of survival seems even more bleak and deadly as the students are helpless and alone in this ordeal. While I am still not over the beloved lead, Cheong-san (Yoon Chang-young), sacrificing himself to save the group, the series has definitely managed to win over a global audience by presenting the theme of surviving the apocalypse from a teenage lens.
Alone and unequipped, the kids use their basic understanding of life and are seemingly more mature than adults as they finally make it out alive. While it ends on a slightly hopeful note with some half-human and half-zombies still in the picture, where they probably beat their instincts with the last semblance of humanity, the show comes to an end. It questions institutional choices and emphasises the filial love that makes one cross heavily-guarded borders to save their children. Despite severe trauma and hollowed hearts, the epic tale of survival helps the show be at par with other iconic South Korean zombie productions, namely Train to Busan and Kingdom.
Watch All Of Us Are Dead on Netflix now.