‘All of Us Are Dead’: Netflix’s Korean Wave Strikes Again

It is no secret that we have been living in a global pandemic for over two years now. This has caused numerous and repetitive lockdown restrictions all over the world, forcing countless companies to close temporarily. The making of shows and movies, for one, had to be paused and all activity was postponed. Slowly but surely, we got accustomed to Covid-19 regulations and managed to resume life by adjusting to it as the new norm. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” they say. Well, it is in this context that “All of Us Are Dead,” a Korean show about a virus that turns people into zombies, sees the light on Netflix. 

“All of Us Are Dead” was originally a Korean webtoon (an online comic strip) by the name of “Now at Our School,” which is also the title of the show in Korean. Made between 2009 and 2011 by Korean author Dong-geun Joo, Netflix first announced the project would be taken upon to be sterilized in 2020. Ironically, when filming started that same year, it got interrupted because a new Covid wave hit South Korea. Fortunately, the drama (as Korean series are called) ultimately completed filming, enabling it to premiere on January 28. 

Su-hyeok Lee (Park Solomon) and Cheong-san Lee (Chan-young Yoon). Courtesy of Netflix. 

The drama is set at a high school in which a student gets infected by a mysterious virus that is transmissible through biting. At the root? Byeong-chan Lee, a science teacher/scientist (played by Byung-chul Kim) who wanted to create a cure for his severely bullied son. As you might guess, it did not turn out to be quite the antidote he was going for. The scientist unintentionally created a virus (christened the “Jonas virus”) that turns human beings into insatiable zombies animated by one desire only: biting every person that comes their way. It is as contagious as Covid-19, which is certainly why the show speaks so smoothly to today’s audience. 

It is not the first time South Korea has provided us with a zombie genre program. Back in 2016, the hit movie “Train to Busan” (in which a company’s negligence caused a similar virus, turning the South Korean people into zombies) was projected during the Cannes Film Festival. I remember, after watching that film, a friend told me an epidemic could develop in real life too, if we weren’t being cautious. Back then, her words seemed so far-fetched. Now, since we have been living with a virus for what seems like forever, it has become clear that such an outbreak is not only a prospect, but can also be strong enough to control our every step. Maybe the world won’t be transformed into zombies, but there is no doubt that, because Earth hasn’t been treated the best way, traces of retaliation are occurring as we speak. In “Train to Busan,” it is the cause of factories’ carelessness; however, in “All of Us Are Dead,” the Jonas virus doesn’t have the same explanation. Instead, the drama addresses societal issues more metaphorically. 

In “All of Us Are Dead,” when Byeong-chan explains how he came to create the virus, it is undeniable that he is making sense. He opens up about how hard his son had it and that, no matter how much he tried to make things right by asking for help from the school and the police, his son couldn’t escape his bullies. As the world was the helpless victim of an apocalyptic zombie spread, the scientist creates a gripping, spine-chilling reality when he lets out that what is going on is nothing special because “the strong […] ripping apart the weak” is something that “happens all the time.” The drama portrays a father that was so “desperate […] to save [his son],” that “rather than [have him] die as a human, [he] wanted him to survive as a monster.” Though things quickly got out of hand, the drama actually uses a father’s love for his child to draw attention to the fact that “ignoring minor violence would result in violence taking over the world.”

Eun-Ji Min (Hye-Soo Oh). Courtesy of Netflix. 

Human beings shifting into zombies seemingly epitomizes human violence to a point that it is impossible to ignore. The argument that the scientist makes is that so many injustices are occurring every day and yet so many people let them slide, or are the direct cause of it. Byeong-chan, by being the source of the outbreak, forces the world to face the fall-out from the violence that’s been dismissed. And even if his intention was not “for everyone to die,” part of him still thinks the world, whom he considers “accomplices,” only got what they deserved. He personifies the story of a powerless father who wanted to do everything in his capacity to save his son. “We live in a system of violence,” and because he couldn’t “change the system,” he “decided to change [his] son” instead.

Additional societal issues are also tackled in the show — such as bullying, teen pregnancy, school pressure and more. One in particular that is well drawn upon, is the discrepancy between the adults and teenagers’ approaches as to how to deal with things. For example, the core group of students stick together to increase their chances of survival whilst expecting the “adults” to come and rescue them from the h*llhole. But as days go by, the students come to the conclusion that no help is coming their way, so they gain autonomy and start thinking of a way out by themselves. Most students try their best to always have their friends’ backs, holding on to their conscience at all costs. Whereas the “adults,” which are represented by the army as the Martial Law (referring to a time when the military becomes the government and that involves the suspension of ordinary law) cut all phone and internet services, and abandon the ground zero of the epidemic, fully aware there are survivors. As a matter of fact, the author of the webtoon shared that, back when he was writing the story (2009), the idea that the government wouldn’t be assisting its citizens in a defenseless situation was quite in line with South Korea at that time.

Just like fellow smash dramas “Squid Game” and “My Name,” “All of Us Are Dead” engages in social commentary. Although it falls into the zombie genre, the show conveys much deeper matters. As programs made in South Korea have this je-ne-sais-quoi that hooks Netflix viewers worldwide, they have become a real asset for the streaming platform. Therefore, even if a second season for “All of Us Are Dead” has not been set yet, a sequel is definitely not off the table — especially given the fact that the show achieved the number one spot on Netflix’s global chart. And let’s not forget the open-ending, or, dare we say, cliffhanger that closed the last episode of season one.

Nam-ra Choi (Yi-hyun Cho). Courtesy of Netflix. 

The drama was, without mincing my words, intensely engrossing. The zombie genre might be repulsing for some, but in a personal capacity, I never get enough of it. In this series in particular, many storylines are painted — vicariously or more inherently linked — only for each of them to intertwine in the most sensible way. Among the dreadful life-endangering unrest and the innate impulse to survive, viewers unknowingly get attached to the characters. A second season would serve the fans of “All of Us Are Dead” internationally by shining a light on unanswered questions while also venturing into unexplored territory. There is much to be delved into — like, for instance, the question of going back to “normal life” after being exposed to horrendous hazards and the loss of loved ones. Also, is there any chance some of the characters that presumably perished in the bombing launched by the authorities actually managed to make it out alive? And what will happen to the mutants (or “half-bies,” like they have sometimes been called in the show)? 

I have often been disappointed when Korean dramas deliver a spectacularly run show, keeping me wanting for more all along, only to be awfully let down by the ending. This was the case for “All of Us Are Dead.” I reckon everything happened so fast in the finale, it felt like crashing down from an intoxicating, yet delectable high. Having said that, the first season was so skillfully penned that it is likely that prolonging the show would offer viewers a high-quality scheme. Either way, as alluded to earlier, it is safe to say that the finale fell short of viewers’ expectations. So Netflix, what’s your position? 

“All of Us Are Dead” is available to stream on Netflix.

By Sourour Elfourti

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