Director: Joe Chien
Cast: Andy On, Jessica Cambensy, Jack Kao Jie, Philip Ng Wan Lung, Michael Wong, Terence Yin Chi Wai, Derek Tsang Kwok Cheung, Abby Feng Yuan Zhen, Gu Bao Ming
Running Time: 95 min.
By Paul Bramhall
At the end of my review for Joe Chien’s 2012 production Zombie 108, I was so appalled at what was proudly billed as China’s first zombie movie that I wrote “if it’s Chien who’s going to be the driving force behind them, then hopefully it’ll be the last.” However, like a modern incarnation of the village idiot, somehow I found myself drawn to Chien’s 2014 follow-up, Zombie Fight Club. I can say it was the presence of Andy On that drew me in, the fact that the action was being choreographed by Philip Ng, or even just tempted by the concept of a zombie fight club. But I won’t try to justify myself, I chose to watch this movie while of sound mind, so will attempt to write this review while in a similar disposition.
Zombie Fight Club bursts out of the gates in much the same way that its predecessor did. Within the first 5 minutes we have a title sequence that lists actors with names like ‘MC Hotdog’, a vision of Taipei up in flames, a gratuitous shot of a young female’s posterior adorned in denim hot pants, and a guy having his ear chopped off. 10 minutes in and we’ve had a threesome scene, a guy having his manhood bitten off when the girl he’s receiving lip service from chooses a bad moment to become a zombie, and a group of party goers taking selfies together with the zombies. Frankly, there is more insane nonsense in these initial minutes than most movies cram into their whole runtime. But I have to confess, I found myself enjoying it.
In what I promise will be my last reference to my thoughts on Zombie 108, I had written how that movie’s opening also appeared to “basically setup for a throwback to the trashy Category III flicks of Hong Kong’s yesteryear, only in Taiwanese form.” I then went on to explain how it failed miserably. The opening of Zombie Fight Club had me hoping that Chien had learnt his lesson, and maintain the entertainingly trashy lowbrow zombie shenanigans for the duration of the run-time.
One thing that becomes evident rather quickly is that Chien must have enjoyed The Raid, as the structure of the first hour contains several identical setups from the Gareth Evans classic. Andy On is basically Rama (although to keep it simple, here On plays a character called, wait for it, Andy), with Michael Wong in the role of corrupt captain Wahyu. There’s even an almost identical shot which is framed in the van of the SWAT team, positioned as they approach the building they’re planning to infiltrate, in which On questions if what they’re doing is authorized.
Inside the building we focus on the apartment of a young couple who like to party, played by Derek Tsang and half American/half Filipino model Jessica C, who spends the entire movie either (a) wearing a pair of hot pants and a bra, or (b) wearing a pair of hot pants and a vest with no bra. This, and the fact that she cuts her hair short at some point, is the extent of her characterization. Unfortunately due to some contaminated drugs the couple and a group of friends were going to take, everyone ends up turning into zombies, a fate she only narrowly escapes thanks to taking a bathroom break when the other characters pop the pills.
Jessica C’s survival and the arrival of Andy On setup the structure for what amounts to almost non-stop blood splattered zombie mayhem. Zombie Fight Club is still B-grade stuff, but gone is the hyper-editing of the zombie scenes from Zombie 108, replaced with better zombie makeup, better CGI (although still far from perfect), and a heap more zombie extras than his previous effort could afford. The result is admittedly a lot of gory fun. Zombies get punched through the face and out the back of the head, one zombie is beaten to a pulp with a golf club, while the character giving the beating yells “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger Woods!”, and there’s even a man on a Zimmer frame vs. a zombie in the mix. None of it makes a lick of sense, none more so that when the elderly man using the Zimmer frame steps into a robot suit, not dissimilar to the one Sigourney Weaver uses in the finale of Aliens, and armed with a chainsaw creates a bloodbath of zombie decapitation.
The misogynistic streak against women has also thankfully been dialed back for Zombie Fight Club. Chien has still cast 99% of the female characters for their looks, and has them dressed as scantily as possible, but the scenes of degradation and cruelty that made Zombie 108 leave a bad taste have gone. That said, there are still some scenes that will have some viewers feeling uncomfortable. There’s the appearance of a zombie baby, and in one rather bizarre scene, which ends up becoming pivotal to the plot, a middle aged professor is visited by his daughter and her friends. When his daughter is killed by a zombie, instead of trying to rescue her surviving friends, he decides to kill them so that they can be together with his daughter in the afterlife. It may have sounded like a good twist on paper, but it’s arguably in bad taste to set a soft acoustic guitar track to a scene in which he’s murdering a group of young girls in cold blood.
Staying true to its breakneck pacing, at the one hour mark Zombie Fight Club suddenly decides it’s going to skip 1 year into the future. It’s explained onscreen that the world has been overrun by zombies, and that humans have been forced to live underground, ruled over by a mad dictator who enjoys pitting humans vs. zombies in a tournament which resembles something close to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets Gladiator. Finally, we get to see the zombie fight club that the movie was named after! Andy On changes here from being Rama in The Raid to Russell Crowe in Gladiator, as he takes it on himself to attempt to free all of the humans being held captive. It’s all very dramatic, especially one scene were he’s being seduced by one of the dictators dominatrix acquaintances, in which he yells at her, “Come on, take off my pants!”
For zombie fans, there are plenty of inventive zombie deaths and liberal use of fake (and CGI) blood throughout. From Andy On storming down a corridor bashing in the brains of zombies using his fist and feet, to a car being used to take out as many of the undead as possible, in a scene which should be used as the basis for the next installment of The Fast & The Furious franchise. For those hoping that Andy On and action choreographer Philip Ng would get a rematch of their fight in Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, thankfully we do. It comes completely without warning, and had it not been for the voiceover that plays over the start of it, which explains that the dictator has created a human vs. human tournament with the victor being granted freedom, you’d be left wondering exactly why it was happening at all.
It’s a decent fight from two performers who could be argued to be the only worthy thespians currently working in HK action cinema, and the fact that part of it takes place in an abandoned bus surrounded by hungry zombies is surprisingly effective at raising the stakes. However, if it’s purely fight action you’re looking for, Zombie Fight Club is not the place to visit. For 90 minutes of blood drenched zombie mayhem and sexy scantily clad women, you could do a lot worse, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what all the best Category III movies provide us with?
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6.5/10