In yet another webtoon adaptation, Netflix combines the appeal of the zombie genre and high school dramas in one 12-episode series that serves up on all its promises. All of Us Are Dead indeed delivers on hordes of the undead and a bunch of kids trapped in their high school trying to survive while sorting out their complex young romances.
Synopsis: Hyosan High School is notorious for extreme bullying and school officials who shove everything under the rug. When a disgruntled parent crafts a virus to end the abuse, all hell breaks loose.
I liked the approach that Netflix took with All of Us Are Dead. They capitalized on the appeal of a young but solid cast and touched on difficult subjects such as bullying, blackmail pornography and other issues that high students have to face before it truly unleashed the virus angle.
I liked that we got to know a little bit about Cheong San (Chan Yeong Yoon) and On Jo’s (Nam Ji Hoo) relationship, about Su Hyeok’s (Park Solomon) past association with the bullies and Gwi Nam’s background as the lackey of the king of the school bullies. It gave us a context on how they would react when they came face to face with a zombie apocalypse and the virus itself.
From the get go, audiences knew who liked who, so it was a given that they would take an interest in how these complex dynamics would play out in the struggle to survive. Cheong San was obviously in love with his childhood buddy On Ju and always looked out for her. He saved her countless times and even volunteered to do the most dangerous tasks to protect her. On the flipside, On Ju had a crush on Su Hyeok, Cheong San’s close friend, who in turn liked Nam Ra (Cho Ju Hyun), the standoffish class president. So there, welcome to high school. Apart from surviving a zombie apocalypse, this love square also kept the story fresh and hopeful for a happy ending.
One thing I liked about All of Us Are Dead was the way the series progressed. It felt like the survivors were in a video game, taking on each challenge as if they were stages. Once they survive one challenge, they move on the next, and the next. The downside to this, of course, is that they always end up trapped one way or the other.
I liked that the students also seemed to evolve from the beginning, and seemed to grow bolder when the situation became even more difficult. I also liked how they worked together to achieve their goals in increments. Its already a big deal to travel from one room to another with a horde of zombies lurking in the halls but I appreciated the fact that they stepped up and took risks instead of just sitting around and doing nothing.
Unlike other zombie films where a group is easily fragmented by factions, the kids seemed to deal with issues rationally except for some who always had to have a dissenting opinion. Its important to note (which was underscored in the earlier part of the movie where the kids immediately sprung to action when their teacher ordered them to) that the main protagonists are actually just kids who were as clueless as survival and mostly dependent on adults to take charge. So while it was frustrating to see them lolling around and generally, wait for rescue to arrive, it made a lot of sense.
Netflix did a pretty good job with the casting. Park Solomon makes a triumphant return after his stint in the 2017 web drama Revenge Note opposite Kim Hyang Gi and still looks as good in a school uniform as he did five years ago. I liked On Ju too but felt like her character lacked that extra push to become the leader. Cheong San actually stepped up a lot and really stood his ground against Gwi Nam. Even though he was afraid of the bully, he never gave up because he wanted to protect everyone.
There were truly deplorable characters in this series. Gwi Nam being the most despicable. I was disappointed it did not end up in a showdown with Eun Ji. It would have been more poetic. There was also Na Yeon (Squid Game’s Lee Yoo Mi), whose arrogance pushes her to do something evil to prove she was right. And there’s Ji Min, who is quick to point fingers at what is wrong with others but in the end shows that she too is lacking. One of my most hated was Cheol Soo, the coward who did nothing and justified his cowardice by leaving his classmates behind.
There were many funny moments as well. I didn’t think at first that Detective Jae Ik (Lee Ku Hyung) and his reluctant sidekick Jin Goo (Oh Hee Joon) would be cast in that light given he was a dedicated cop who wanted to save everyone. Also, I liked the banter among the surviving student. Daesu was a sweetheart. He was one of the MVPs in this story because he was a loyal friend to the end and he made his friends smile when they needed it the most. The scenes with the parents and the extent that they went through to save their kids was also something to think about. It was heartbreaking and painful but their different ways to protecting their children sent a powerful message in the story.
I was afraid that 12 episodes would be too long for the series but it turned out to be okay. One thing that I found unbelievable though was how they still were still so lively even days without eating anything. And for all their references about zombies, I would have figured that they would at least try to stock up on food and weapons before they did anything. Anyway, they were a bunch of kids so this could be forgiven.
All of Us Are Dead was like School 2020 Meets Train to Busan. It kept up the suspense until the last episode. It was a well executed nail biter that even if it was not the most original of ideas, still made the series entertaining with a lot of close calls, and gore. Great casting for the main and supporting roles, and who could resist shipping a bunch of nice looking kids in the middle of a zombie wasteland? We all have to look forward to something right?