Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Zombie 108 - review

2012 (Taiwan)

Contains mild spoilers.

Director and writer Joe Chien even admits on the 25 minutes making of documentary, that Taiwan's first zombie film, Zombie 108 might not be all that much, but someone at least had to go first. He might well be right, but one thing I will say, and this is applicable to many of the amateur zombie projects I've watched, is sometimes the exuberance and passion a director and his crew throw at a film, can end up becoming palatable, elevating what on the surface is quite mediocre in to something more.

Linda (Yvonne Yao) wakes up to the apocalypse. She's dazed, confused, her husband next to her is unconscious (or dead?) and her daughter Chloe who should be in the back seat is missing. Climbing out and calling out, she makes her way through abandoned cars and a scene of utter destruction and devastation to a supermarket where she makes contact with the undead stars of the show. I know it's all a bit hackneyed and cliché, but the early scenes are stylishly presented, tense and believable. It's survival apocalyptic horror, Yvonne Yao is convincing, the zombies look good and whether intentional or not, I appreciated the fact the store used was part of the French chain Carrefour (as in the voodoo crossroads and referenced in such films as I Walked with a Zombie).

If you'd thought losing your partner then getting harried by dozens of vicious chomping zombies was bad you must always recall the old adage, that things can always get worse. As she, and the now found Chloe, scramble inside a passing car, it's probably a good time to mention that as well as an action zombie survival story, Zombie 108 is intertwined with an exploitative torture porn sub-narrative, and the next time we'll actually see Linda, she'll be naked in a cage in, and this is exactly how he's billed on IMDb, Pervert's sordid little fuck dungeon.

It's all nicely done, if you like exploitative rape and torture cinema, it just feels a bit incongruous with the rest of the film. For the most part we have an interesting if a little rambley and chaotic, zombie survival story with a disparate mix of SWAT police, gang lords with supporting goons and American tourists. Just every so often without warning, and never with context, we have to witness a bacon-masked serial sadist perform all manner of perversions to a whole gaggle of pretty young nubile victims. It's this pacing and lack of fluidity in transitioning from one scene to the next that lies at the heart of Zombie 108's problems and it's not isolated to just the two main narratives.

Joe Chien undoubtedly has a knack of setting up and capturing a scene with style and energy and I'd go so far as to say he's quite the visionary. Each scene is well lit, with atmosphere and a great eye for angles, timing and cinematic wizardry. It's just he hasn't really mastered how to move from one to another in any coherent or believable way. Each sequence feels isolated whether it's one of the many unnecessary and unconvincing rambling none-combat ones, included I assume to provoke an emotional response, or whether it's one of the many lavish high octane ones. Eventually the two main narratives do meet, and perhaps highlighting not only this problem but also the weakness of the script, it all feels forced and contrived, like Chien doesn't really know what to do when he's forced to stay on point and can't switch out or use some film making trick to hide the narratives deficiencies. 

What Zombie 108 does get right is its undead protagonists. The zombies are a vicious gnarly bunch, staggering and shuffling across screen at the first whiff of a tasty new morsel to tuck into. They're well made-up, bloody and they come across as unnatural and totally inhuman. The origin story subtitled during the opening credits goes on about a virus, a lab, human test subjects, a drunk scientist and it all going out of control, but there's also ambiguous references to the Japanese Tsunami and Radiation. I'm not going to sweat it, we've seen this sort of feisty combination before. Here it's successfully turned people into blue tinted Romero style slow shufflers who are definitely dead and capable of transferring the virus, gene, whatever, through bites or scratches. They look and act in unison and other than a very daft couple of mutation scenes, and making the odd one here and there a 'runner' or a bit of a demon, they felt authentic, rabid and intimidating

Zombie 108 is a hard film to sum up. On the one hand the main narrative is all a bit tried and tested, with a disjointed story and incongruous subplot, on the other there's some truly good scenes and dare I say an occasional flash of directorial genius. The cast do as reasonable a job as they can with dialogue as disjointed and chaotic as the story, the effects are pretty good and the score matches the action with quite an eclectic force. Chien obviously likes his female cast in as few clothes as possible and torture porn is a bit of an acquired taste, but he some how gets away with it crafting a zombie film that's really quite dark and nasty with a feel all of its own. Zombie 108 is not a good film by any stretch but there's just something about it that left an indelible positive impression, and though I feel I should mark it lower my guts tell me to give it 5/10.



  1. Definitely curious about this one. Nice review...

  2. On YouTube its called "Zombie Darius" for some reason.