Thursday, February 2

‘We are dead’: Netflix’s latest zombie savagery talks, above all, about why its Korean series are so successful

In Korean cinema and series in particular, although it is something that can be extended to all internationally successful Asian cinema -from the kaiju eiga Japanese and ‘Power Rangers’ to Indian blockbusters – lies a singular contradiction. They have a universality that makes them attractive to audiences around the world and they are also often the most unbelievably weird series and movies one can watch. method.

His humor is often extreme, ridiculous and out of context; the excesses that are taken with violence and eschatology; its rhythms opposed to those of the West -which are always wanting to tell a lot, very fast and all the time-; and their unprejudiced mix of genres – rarely is an Asian film just “horror” or “action”, but instead peppered with an abundance of drama, comedy, or both – makes them rarities. And yet there is ‘The Squid Game’ as the international sensation of 2021 on Netflix.

And in the case of ‘The Squid Game’ it is clear why it is so attractive: a story of a simplicity that borders on abstraction and with well-known references outside of Asia (from ‘Saw’ to ‘Yellow Humor’). And in addition to a very well concocted and suspenseful plot and a clear aesthetic that also transcends borders, it points to universal and very current themes, among them the radical decisions that we are forced to take in cases of extreme necessity. Not everyone can make a good-tasting cocktail from all those ingredients, but in Korea, which plays anti-capitalist satires and true crimes gross on the international market every few months, they are used to it.

It is very possible that ‘We are dead’ will not achieve the same impact. On the one hand, it has an unpredictable savagery that makes it less accessible. In ‘The Squid Game’ we had sporadic and predictable explosions of violence, limited to the context of the tests; here the infection is unleashed in the first moments, and we have infected butchering kids almost from the start. The tension is constant and the brake is not pressed. Too much, perhaps, for the average Netflix viewer.

‘We are dead’: the title says it all

This new Netflix production is the latest sample of the zombie subgenre from Korea, which has recently given us pieces like ‘Train to Busan’ and its sequel ‘Peninsula’, ‘Vivo’ and the one also produced by Netflix ‘Kingdom’. And like all its predecessors, it is an excellent example of what is so attractive about the country’s productions to Western audiences. Everything mentioned above is here, like the humor that helps to digest the terrible scenes of horror, the mix of genres or the understandable references around the world (the wild infected became a universal monster years ago, and there are nice meta references to hits of the genre like ‘Train to Busan’)…

But the real attraction of ‘We are dead’ is in how, without neglecting a incessant persecution and harassment (there are chapters, like the second, that are authentic exercises in tension and claustrophobia for an hour and a half), ‘We are dead’ also manages to talk about other issues. Just as ‘The Squid Game’ dealt with the suffocating economic situation that savage capitalism has brought Korea to, here it talks about the inhuman pressure that Korean students have to live with, and how the bullying, depression and competitiveness are collateral effects of this situation.

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It is these messages that give three-dimensionality to the characters, who, as always, live their dramas with absolutely overwhelmed intensity, but that is how they manage to become important to the viewer: friendships, hates, infatuations and relationships that are evolving become the last traces of humanity in a desperate situation. Again, few series like the Korean ones know how to find that balance.

In its second half the series is, in part, unable to maintain the feverish pace of its beginning, and miss the opportunity to delve into the terrible and dramatic story that starts the plague. But ‘We are dead’ (whose title seems like the gloomy reverse of John Carpenter’s ‘They are alive’) is a very powerful apocalyptic story that is devoured almost in one gulp despite its very long episodes. One more example of the irresistible power of Korean fiction.