All of Us Are Dead was marketed as the next K-zombie craze and when it dropped on Netflix, it didn’t disappoint. Overnight, everyone is talking about fast-moving zombies, frustrating hide-and-seek-run-and-chase scenes, lovelines, and promising young Korean actors. And if you’re one of the skeptics who still doesn’t want to watch this series, I’m telling you there’s more to the story of All of Us Are Dead than what you have seen in viral clips online.
This is quite a fast-paced series in terms of zombie action. The attack started in the first episode so there’s quite a lot of running and violence from the beginning if that’s what you’re looking for. They didn’t hold back on using blood and gore. There’s carnage in and out of school. And yes, despite its Korean title “Now at our School”, this series didn’t just delve into the zombie attack at Hyosan High School.
Everything in this series started in Hyosan High and the virus’ origin story slowly unfolded in every episode. One might get the whole backstory of how the virus started in the first episode but the virus isn’t just a mad scientist’s experiment gone wrong. Lee Byeong-chan’s story (Kim Byung-chul) is actually quite interesting. He raises the question of who should be blamed for the onslaught and destruction brought upon by the man-made virus. Because it was clear throughout the series that the virus was just the start of a cycle of mistakes after mistakes made by faulty decisions. It was the catalyst that showed there is ingrained human selfishness in all of us especially when our instinct to survive kicks in. There’s nothing exactly new about a zombie apocalypse. Some might even say other zombies or disaster shows already raise those questions. But what makes this thing more interesting for me is that they presented this subliminal messages using young characters.
Admittedly, there were scenes here where I questioned the decisions of main characters and got frustrated when they do things instead of just running away from trouble to save themselves. But then I would remind myself that I’m not watching a group of brainiac scientists or tactical ex-soldiers. They’re just normal high school students who were suddenly got swamped by zombies. Despite the series having an ensemble cast, its story mainly anchored its narration by using these four characters: Nam On-jo (Park Ji-hu), Lee Cheong-san (Yoon Chan-young), Choi Nam-ra (Cho Yi-hyun), and Lee Su-hyeok (Lomon). These four students’ characteristics were opposites of each other but they are similar in some ways. When they were discussing their escape plans, I realized that Nam-ra always poses logical questions while On-jo’s decision-making prioritizes what’s morally right. Meanwhile, Cheong-san has an impulsive streak to him while Su-hyeok is the relatively level-headed one. The group of survivors left at the end of the series are a mishmash of personalities but they were bonded together by literal life and death situations they faced.
One of the hardest scenes to watch here is when they had to say goodbye to their friends. Han Gyeong-su’s infection was the most frustrating and emotional one to watch. Frustrating because he died just because of Lee Na-yeon’s (Lee Yoo-mi) rich kid pettiness. Emotional because they’ve been through quite a lot at that point and they should have realized they should depend on each other instead of starting trivial fights. That’s why one of the most satisfying scenes in this series (more than killing off zombies) is when Nam-ra slapped Na-yeon. I think it was also the turning point for all the surviving students. I love how Nam-ra subtly pointed out that Na-yeon didn’t have the right to decide who deserved to get infected and who doesn’t? And this question shouldn’t even be considered valid. Actually, Nam-ra posed a lot of existential questions throughout the series. I think she’s the only teen character who tries to find deeper meaning in the tragedy they’re in.
Since most of the decisions were made by ordinary teenagers, I often catch myself asking if a character’s death was a meaningful sacrifice or just plain foolishness. And I do understand why it might frustrate any adults watching this. But some of the decisions made by adult characters can be as equally immature as those made by the students. Who in their right mind leaves survivors on the epicenter of a disaster just because of a mere assumption? That’s why I couldn’t blame On-jo, Su-hyeok, and the rest of the squad when they voiced their disappointment to the adults who left them on their own. I won’t even accept if they use the infection outside school as an excuse for their failure to rescue these kids.
Speaking of side stories outside Hyosan High, there are two ways to look at them: (1) filler stories to stretch the main plot into its 12-episode format or (2) plot introduction that could be developed in future seasons. To be honest, some subplots could have been easily edited out of the story but some were actually interesting. One conversation that caught my attention was the dialogue between first responder Nam So-ju (Jeon Bae-su) and Assemblyman Park Eun-hee (Bae Hee-sun). Both of their character arcs revolve around the question of what should come first in this kind of situation: self-interest or duty. Another adult subplot I enjoyed watching was the chaotic duo of detective Song Jae-il (Lee Kyoo-hyung) and Jeong Ho-cheol (Park Jae-chul). I didn’t expect them to become the comic relief for this series given that it was Detective Song who was in charge of the virus infection case and I thought his character was just for that interrogation alone. But now if there would be a new season, I would be looking forward to their journey on becoming Hyosan’s unlikely heroes. Yes, I’m claiming it because they seem to be the only adults listening to actual Hyosan survivors.
I actually like that they inserted these societal questions in the series because I always prefer stories with good takeaways. But that’s a personal thing. And I understand why fans of this genre or at least, those expecting something else, are quite disappointed with the seemingly pointless numerous subplots. But this series was clearly crafted with a seasonal format in mind. With all of those introduced subplots, they could easily continue it to the next season. There should definitely be one because I need explanations for a lot of things. Virus mutations, possible cure, and of course, what happens now to the surviving Hyosan students. But if they won’t do a second season, All of Us Are Dead remains a worthwhile watch. It gave me a good dose of thrill, a pinch of romance, heartbreaking character deaths, and a whole bunch of promising young actors to look out for.