Dead army boys mysteriously transforming into flesh-eating monsters in a camp and a ragtag group of survivors having to fight their way out while facing enemies both dead and living – Zombiepura jumps straight into the spook factor from the first scenes. Singapore’s first feature-length zombie flick combines horror, action, drama and comedy all in one without the jarring tonal shifts that some local films are known for (here’s looking at you, Jack Neo).
The story draws much of its drama from the conflict between the two very different main characters, Corporal Tan Kayu (Alaric Tay) and Sergeant Lee Siao On (Benjamin Heng), as they try not to get eaten by zombies or be killed by their treacherous human counterparts.
Their names basically give away their characters – Kayu (Malay for “idiot”) is a slacker soldier who plays video games on his phone while everyone else is standing to attention for the national anthem, while Siao On (Singlish for “on the ball”) is a hard-ass, by-the-books commander who despises the lazy Kayu.
In their quest to escape from their camp when the zombie outbreak occurs in the middle of their reservist training, Kayu and Siao On join a mother-daughter pair – Susie (Chen Xiu Huan), an e-mart auntie full of cougar charm, and Xiaoling (Joeypink Lai), Susie’s pretty shop assistant who sets the soldiers’ hearts racing.
Director Jacen Tan set out to make the film very Singaporean – complete with Singlish and local jargon. The characters switch between speaking English, Mandarin, and dialect effortlessly. The zombies are called siao kia (crazy people) and the survivors’ strategy in a major battle with the monsters is “siam, hood or zao” (dodge, attack or flee).
The constant switching of languages shouldn’t be too jarring for Singaporeans used to code-switching, though there are subtitles along the way to help viewers who need them.
A certain plot device echoes The Walking Dead, the US TV series that has revived the current wave of zombie films (the undead detect the living through smell here, too).
There is some subtle political and social commentary, though it doesn’t overwhelm the narrative. The “white horse” medical officer Captain Yap (Edward Choy) is given preferential treatment by his father, the “senior minister for grassroots defence without portfolio”; and the zombies continue going through the motions of their pre-undead lives, a veiled reference to the bureaucratic rigidity of the military.
Kayu is interestingly juxtaposed with his chao keng (malingering) counterpart, Corporal Chua (Rayve Zen). Before the outbreak occurs, the two slackers bump fists to their shared motto, “bo keng, bo zo peng” (if you don’t malinger, you haven’t been a soldier) – but as the zombie crisis progresses, we see them responding very differently to the perils that they face.
There are a couple of questionable plot points – a herculean chin-up saves the day at one point, and one character single-handedly holds off an entire wall of zombies in one scene – but overall, Zombiepura is an entertaining genre film with satisfying, though imperfect, character development.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars.
Zombiepura is in cinemas now.