All of Us Are Dead is a Korean Netflix series with a nuanced take on the zombie outbreak genre through multidimensional characters and a dash of realism
orean TV series and movies have become some of the best-produced content out there. The release of Parasite, a movie about the stark financial disparity between two households, was a massive success that brought Korean productions into the worldwide spotlight. The success of Squid Game further extended this phenomenon. And now, Netflix is host to several classic, cheesy K-dramas like The Inheritors and Boys Over Flowers while also having newer content such as All of Us are Dead and Hellbound.
While the premise of All of Us Are Dead (a zombie virus outbreak at school) has been done several times before, this series has a more nuanced take on it, with some societal commentary thrown in for good measure.
The inception of the virus in the series is born of a father’s paternal instinct to protect his son. In Western productions, these viruses are usually created for profitable or terrorism purposes. Lee Byeong-Chan is a biology teacher at Hyosan High, whose son is relentlessly picked on by a group of bullies. Despite several complaints to the principal and even the police, the bullies refuse to stop and double down on their antics. Frustrated by his son’s inability to fight back due to fear, Byeong-Chan extracts hormones from rabid rats that have no fear, in the hope that he can inject his son and get him to stand up for himself. Of course things go awry as his son becomes a zombie and his mind and body continue to deteriorate.
In a desperate attempt to find a cure, he experiments on rats using resources at school, which is what leads to a city-wide outbreak as the infected literally tear into whoever remains human.
The potential for sheer cruelty and recklessness is a running theme throughout the series. This becomes evident as viewers see Gwi-Nam, one of the bullies, sacrifice everyone around him to the roaming zombies just to save his own life. It does not matter if it is his own friend, a random lunch lady or his peers, he shoves them in harm’s way and uses the opportunity to escape.
The series also portrays the harsh realities of martial law, and how civil liberties are easily pushed aside to contain mass destruction. Jin Seon-Mu, the highest martial law authority in the series, has depth and gravitas as well, rather than being a self-righteous egomaniac archetype featured in some of the similar productions.
Na-Yeon is another student with a ruthless streak, holed up in a classroom with some of her classmates. The actress’s portrayal of Na-Yeon is a stark contrast to her character in Squid Game, where everyone sympathised with her. However, Na-Yeon has little to no redeeming qualities, as she purposely infects another student with zombie blood because she hates him for being popular amongst his peers despite being on welfare, while she has no friends despite being financially stable. She leaves the group after throwing a tantrum, and causes the death of a beloved teacher who follows her to make sure she is alright.
Despite the excessive gore and hopelessness that frames the atmosphere at Hyosan High, the surviving group of teenagers get embroiled in quintessential teen drama. The depiction of their petty issues amidst a zombie outbreak really hones in on the fact that these are just children going through something truly horrific and trying to keep their head above water amidst the carnage around them.
More often than not, authority figures such as parents and the military in the zombie-genre tend to be one dimensional characters with little to no emotional depth. All of Us Are Dead highlights the role of adults in this series and gives them strong, multi-dimensional characterisation. Although Byeong-Chan created the virus and is berated by a police officer for it, he does not hesitate to sacrifice himself for the officer’s sake. Furthermore, he isn’t portrayed as a sociopath looking to wreak havoc for the sake of spreading fear, he is actually remorseful of his actions and has a very defeated demeanour. Nam So-Ju is a dedicated firefighter with prior Special Forces experience. While he is fully committed to getting out assemblywoman Eun-Hee unscathed and escorts her group to a quarantine camp, he still breaks some serious rules and escapes to rescue his daughter who for all he knows may not even be alive.
The series also portrays the harsh realities of martial law, and how civil liberties are easily pushed aside to contain mass destruction. Jin Seon-Mu, the highest martial law authority in the series, has depth and gravitas as well, rather than being a self-righteous egomaniac archetype featured in some of the similar productions. His first order of business is containing the virus, and despite losing his soldiers and tackling public hysteria, he tries to find a cure until the very end although the option to bomb the city has been there all along and a lot of people outside Hyosan are actually in favour of it.
All of Us Are Dead is undoubtedly a binge-worthy series. With strong performances from most cast members; protagonists and antagonists alike, it is an enjoyable twist on traditional zombie-centric, horror productions. Even with 12 episodes, each being about an hour long, the story does not drag and there is a definite balance between the despair-ridden atmosphere and action sequences. It is a highly recommended watch, with levels far beyond the gore-y poster on Netflix.
The author is a staff member