In Kim Sung-hoon’s Rampant, we get history and zombie tropes colliding to bring us an epic tale of conspiracies, betrayal and an unlikely hero.
Prince Ganglim or Lee Chung (Hyun Bin), an arrogant and entitled young man, is back after being sent away to Beijing by his father the king (Kim Eui-sung) for political reasons. He has returned to Joseon because his brother, the Crown Prince (Kim Tae-woo), has taken his life in resistance to the king’s plans to submit to the Qing Dynasty, and wishes Ganglim to take his pregnant wife away from the turmoil.
There is also a conspiracy of rebellion with the duplicitous War Minister Kim Ja-joon (Jang Dong-gun) who plots to take over the kingdom for himself. He plans this by intercepting a shipment of guns and gunpowder, initially intended for the Crown Prince’s uprising against the king, as well as a diseased passenger who carries a highly communicable virus that turns the afflicted into bloodthirsty zombies. Ganglim’s arrives just in time to realize his arrogant ways have no place amidst the outbreak of infected villagers and rebellion, and he must become a hero to save his sister-in-law and innocent citizens before evil takes over.
Rampant is two hours of a historical narrative with zombies. Quite frankly, it’s too long. The real film starts about 15 minutes in when Ganglim gets to Joseon, with the story coming together at around the one-hour mark. The script over-complication of the plot, and I could have done without the beginning of the film which introduces some of the numerous characters too early to make sense of the action.
These issues aside, the performances were excellent. Hyun Bin as the immature prince who changes his ways exuded charm and athletic ability with all the fantastic sword play. The ensemble cast was also great, although the comic relief provided by Hak-Su (Jeong Man-sik), Ganglim’s trusty aide, leaned a little heavily on the camp end. The film is also quite engaging visually, with beautiful wardrobe, sets, cinematography, and the fight sequences are fast and enthralling. The latter of which left me cheering during the tension-filled finale.
Zombie makeup usually has a similar look from film to film but I thought makeup effects for the infected here were well done and far from cliché. There was also a nice touch with the “demons”, as they were called in the film, being sensitive to light. I’m sure there is also historical context with the infected since China had rule over Joseon with both the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The representation of the Korean assimilation of Chinese beliefs and systems is a complicated and fascinating history in itself to decipher.
All things considered, for an historical/horror hybrid, Rampant is worth the lengthily buildup and takes you on a fabulous action-filled ride.