The zombie genre takes a trip back to feudal Korea in “Rampant”, a hybrid of zombie and swordplay action that ultimately struggles to be more than the sum of its parts, but still an enjoyable ride. Despite slow pacing in the first half and a notable lack of character development, fans hungry for sword-driven martial arts action and zombie lovers alike will have plenty to sink their teeth into (no pun intended) due to the superb makeup of the zombie menace and sequences of zombie action with hordes of the undead numbering in legions.
Hyun Bin leads the film as Korean prince and sword master Lee Chung, while Kim Tae Woo appears as his brother and fellow prince, Lee Young. King Lee Jo is portrayed by Kim Eui-Sung, while Joo Woo-jin steps into the role of rebel leader Park Eul-ryoung, and Jang Dong-gun assumes the mantle of royal minister Kim Ja-joon. Lee Sun-bin also appears in the role of Deok-hee, while Seo Ji-hye portrays the role of Jo, a concubine on whom our hero’s energy is primarily focused amidst the zombie outbreak.
Set in Korea’s Joseon era, the reigning King Lee Jo’s continued acquiescence to Qing Emperor spurs his increasingly infuriated son, Prince Lee Young, to plot a coup to overthrow his father. Unfortunately, the planned rebellion comes right at the same time as a new menace begins terrorizing the nation – seemingly deceased people dubbed “Night Demons” who return to life to prey on the living. As the zombie breakout begins to throw the country into increasing levels of chaos in the midst of the rebellion, Lee Young’s brother and fellow prince, master swordsman Lee Chung, aka Prince Ganglim, returns home, and despite having his own agenda in mind, is ultimately persuaded to help put a stop to the plague sweeping the nation and restore the Joseon empire to its former glory.
The genre-hybridity on display in “Rampant” is certainly a strong hook on its own, but the film itself is a bit of a mixed bag. “Rampant” feels about fifteen minutes longer than it really needs to be, with the first half paced markedly too slowly, while the characters are largely bland and underdeveloped. However, the human vs zombie action delivers when it arrives, and much of their success is owed to both the quality and quantity of the zombies.
Zombie movies, of course, live or die (full of puns, excuse me) on how convincing the makeup of the undead flesh eaters is, and “Rampant” really hits it out of the park in that regard. These zombies truly embody what the idea of a reanimated corpse brings to mind, all desiccated flesh, ghoulish moans, and piercing, lifeless eyes. Even better is just how many of them appear. While the scale of the film isn’t as vast as 2013’s “World War Z”, the sequences of zombie attacks are a nightmarish flood of undead cannibals clawing their way over one another to get to their warm-blooded prey. If you’re in the mood for a hellish zombie outbreak, “Rampant” both lives up to its title and makes (un)dead certain you get your money’s worth.
With the feudal Korean setting, the film is abundantly packed with sword-slashing action, and while it takes its time in getting to it, “Rampant” really delivers in pitting the swords of our heroes against the teeth of the undead. In fact, in at least one instance, literally so, when one zombie literally tries to chew her way through a blade as her human opponent holds her at bay with his weapon in her hungry jaws. The sheer vastness of the zombie outbreak also proves useful in extending the longevity of the action sequences.
With the undead not operating on any level of higher intelligence or attack coordination, there’s precious little creativity to be had in a one-on-one human vs zombie battle beyond a single slash. Fortunately, the film wisely keeps those to a minimum, with our heroes having to hack and slash through one zombie foe after another in mass battles. The last two zombie battles are really something, and have the appropriately apocalyptic feel of humans desperately trying to hold off an enemy as vast as it is insatiable.
The film also weaves in a bit of the conflict among its human characters into the finale, and while that’s probably the weakest element of the film, it does help make the ending feel complete and holistic within all the zombie carnage going on around it.
While held back from the heights it could’ve risen to, due to bland, undeveloped personalities and an unnecessarily slow first half, zombie fans and lovers of sword-based savagery will want to check out “Rampant”.
The mass battle scenes are intense and brutal, even with the chivalrous characters of the era, and the zombies themselves are a eye-opening achievement of monster movie- making. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel on zombie movies, but it’s a fun experiment in merging very stylistically different genres, and its undead horde is as gruesome as that of “The Walking Dead”. Now that the door’s been opened on setting zombie movies in the distant past, bring on that zombie outbreak in the Old Wild West with one of Negan’s ancestors!
- The film was originally titled “Outbreak”.
- Director Kim Sung-hoon and Hyun Bin previously collaborated on 2017’s “Confidential Assignment”.
- Dong Gun-jang also notably appeared in the 2010 Hollywood Samurai-Western film, “The Warrior’s Way”.
- The film’s distributor, Next World Entertainment, also distributed the 2016 Korean zombie hit “Train to Busan”.
- “Whether we submit to Ming or Qing, it is I, the king, who should decide. Whether this country prospers or flounders, it is also my decision!” – King Lee Jo (asserting his rule.)