Director: Joe Chien
Writer: Joe Chien
Producer: Joe Chien
Cast: Yung Cheung, Yvonne Yao, Tai Bo, Jack Kao Jie, Dennis To, Lena Lam, Cica Zhou
By Paul Bramhall
“The first genre movie combining apocalypse and zombie in Chinese film history” the tag-line for Zombie 108 proudly declares. Well, who doesn’t love a bit of zombie? And if it’s history making zombie, well, even better. The movie is the sophomore feature from Taiwanese director and writer Joe Chien, created thanks in part to a bunch of enthusiastic fans contributing their dollars via various crowd funding initiatives.
Chien certainly doesn’t waste any time getting down to business, with the movie immediately kicking off with a woman waking up at the wheel of her car, crashed in the middle of Taipei. As she comes to, it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right, the streets are deserted, her husband is still unconscious next to her, and her daughter who was in the backseat is missing. It’s an engaging start, and it had my undivided attention, as clichéd as it may be. However then something strange happens, the woman, played by Taiwanese model Yvonne Yao, gets out of the car, and the camera slowly pans back to reveal she’s wearing a pair of denim hot pants and a vest, which the shot lingers on long enough to ensure we realise there’s no sign of a bra underneath it.
In the space of a split second the tone changes from worried mother realising her child is missing, to ‘check out this hot chick, from various angles!’ It may come as no surprise then when I say that the rest of the movie maintains the tone of the latter, unashamedly declaring its intentions from (almost) the word go. It takes a whole 6 minutes for the zombies to appear, and you only have to wait until the 10 minute mark to enjoy some gratuitous topless nudity. A grossly overweight gang boss is surrounded by scantily clad women in the office of a nightclub, a scene which serves the sole purpose of introducing his character and that of his lackey. When he leaves the room, the scene should come to its natural close, but instead it doesn’t, with the camera lingering on purely for the purpose of watching two of the topless women kissing each other. No other reason at all.
So we’re basically setup for a throwback to the trashy Category III flicks of Hong Kong’s yesteryear, only in Taiwanese form. Except for the fact that somehow Chien manages to make a relatively simple setup seem incomprehensibly muddled and confusing. He throws in a couple of American guys, who are in debt to the gang boss for stealing drugs off them; there’s also a SWAT team who are going to raid the gang boss, but then reveal the gang boss was never their target; there’s a Japanese couple who are hiding a dark secret, and someone in the SWAT team recognizes them, but it doesn’t mean anything whatsoever; and most bizarre of all is the character of a deranged pervert.
The pervert character is of particular note (and this is exactly how he’s billed in the credits – ‘Pervert’), as not only is he played by Chien himself, but his scenes are basically separate to the rest of the movie. Seemingly coming to the rescue of Yvonne Yao and her daughter by picking them up in his car as they’re being chased by a horde of zombies, as soon as he’s back in his apartment it’s revealed that he’s a sadistic monster. Wearing a grotesque skin coloured latex mask and a leg brace, he falls somewhere between being a twisted cross between Leather Face from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Choi Min-sik’s monstrous serial killer from I Saw the Devil. His apartment contains a secret basement containing a group of kidnapped women in various states of undress – either chained up or in cages, some with bags over their heads – and all subject to being raped at his will.
These scenes are particularly unpleasant to watch, and are not enjoyable whatsoever. The fact that Chien wrote the part, and decided to have himself play the role, only adds to the repulsive nature of them. The women get slapped around, verbally abused, and put through all manner of degradation, with the only connection they have to the rest of the movie being that it’s the pervert’s apartment where the surviving members of the gang and SWAT team end up hiding out. Speaking of which, it’s these members who come to resemble the main characters of the movie, as in, the characters who we’re supposed to be rooting for, even though we know absolutely zero about them, to the point were none of them are even given names.
The SWAT team at least deserves a mention as its led by Tai Bo, who had small roles in many of Jackie Chan’s 80’s classics, as well as being one of Ohara’s crew in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. Dennis To is also a member of the team, so you’d think we could at least get some young Ip Man vs. zombies action at some point. Sadly this never comes to fruition, with the action scenes being embarrassingly bad. At one point they’re standing on the back of a pickup truck, and as it’s surrounded by zombies the SWAT members fend them off by throwing empty cardboard boxes at them. Have you ever seen a movie before in which zombies are fended off by throwing empty cardboard boxes at them? Of course you haven’t, because it’s a stupid idea.
One of the American guys can also do Parkour, because it probably sounded like a good idea to have someone doing Parkour to escape the zombie hordes. Now this actually is a decent concept, but watching him jump around a room it quickly becomes clear that he’s really not that talented at it. To make things worse, it seems the intention was to make him something of a wisecracking character, so as he clumsily leaps over a couch to avoid a female zombie, we have to listen to him yell out such comedy clangers as, “I told you I’m not giving you my number bitch!” The whole situation quickly becomes fist clenchingly annoying.
Zombie 108 commits several crimes against cinema. Not only is it poorly acted and played out, but its sheer lack of being anything close to coherent push it into the realms of being beyond awful. A Japanese reporter screams at the Taiwanese army to let her know what’s going on, when they don’t answer she becomes even more frantic and starts screaming asking why they’re not answering her. Hmmm, couldn’t it be that they don’t understand Japanese? The script seems like it probably wasn’t finished before they started filming, and randomly interchanges between Mandarin, English, and Japanese, with none of the lines in any language being delivered in a close to believable manner.
Of course no review of a zombie movie would be complete without mentioning the zombies themselves. Chien seems to have applied a rule that none of them could be filmed for more than 1 second at a time, so even if it’s just a shot of a zombie standing still, after one second it cuts…. to a shot of the same zombie still standing there, with the camera now moved a centimetre to the left. Perhaps this was to try and disguise the poor makeup effects, but it ends up being more distracting than anything. There are some brief glimmers of hope here and there, such as towards the end it looks like the gang boss is going to undergo a Story of Ricky-type transformation, however it appears the budget only stretched far enough to buy prosthetics for one arm, which he amusingly uses to swat away a bunch of other zombies by swinging it back and forth, obviously unable to perform any other movement.
Zombie 108 may well be “The first genre movie combining apocalypse and zombie in Chinese film history”, however if it’s Chien who’s going to be the driving force behind them, then hopefully it’ll be the last.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 3/10