From the modern-day outbreak in Train to Busan with the prequel, Seoul Station, and the sequel, Peninsula (slated for 2020 release) to the period horror taking place in Joseon era as in Netflix’s series, Kingdom, or Rampant, zombie apocalypse suddenly comes in waves in South Korean blockbuster scene.This time, it’s Yoo Ah-in’s (Burning) turn to star in an almost-claustrophobic zombie survival movie, #Alive. He portrays Jun-u, an eccentric gamer who finds himself trapped inside his family’s apartment when a mysterious disease rapidly infects people around his neighborhood in Seoul uptown.
Jun-u is awkward and, if alone, he is barely capable to survive the apocalypse. He decides to barricade himself inside the apartment. But, gradually, running water stops and food supplies dwindling. Electricity, phone networks and internet connection gradually and inconsistently fade, too. Just when he thinks to end his life, a girl from the apartment across the street (Park Shin-hye) distracts him and fails his suicide attempt. This, apparently, gives Jun-u the hope to live another day and the survival has really just begun.
A series of coincidences and beginner’s lucks make way for the plot of #Alive. The chance for Jun-u to encounter another survivor living at the across apartment on exactly the same level as him is probably one among hundreds; but, the plot allows them to just encounter at the most crucial time in the narrative. Their encounter, however, offers a completely (and refreshingly) different atmosphere to the movie’s depressing first act that surprisingly hits close to home. With people confined in their own space, unable to meet other people, and unwittingly practice a rather extreme social distancing, the scenes from the first act somehow foresee the real-world situation where the movie first hit the theatre in South Korea (24 June 2020) while the rest of the world was still struggling with domestic lockdown (by the time it hits Netflix on September 2020, the situation has only improved a little in some countries). As the news report how the outside world crumbles, Jun-u just like us all tries to find distractions by playing online games, browsing the social media, or simply flying the drones just to helplessly check the surrounding; but, the whole situation is apparently inevitable. Only when Shin-hye’s U-bin comes to his life does the life starts to feel meaningful.
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Remember the moment when there was a viral video of people singing together from their own balcony in Italy awhile ago? Or when teenage rapper, Rich Brian, delivered gifts to his friends using drone? #Alive surprisingly premonishes that exhilarating moments and recreates them with heartwarming feeling that makes the outlandish rom-com trope amidst the zombie apocalypse doesn’t feel surreal at all. Ah-in and Shin-hye radiate uplifting chemistry that makes it easier to ship for them, even when they don’t share screen together until the last 30 minutes. Their small interactions feel meaningful, especially to those longing for similar feelings during the lockdown period, and director Il Cho (who also writes the story for the screen from Matt Naylor’s story, Alone) knows how not to overdo it.
After the depressing first act that sets the claustrophobic mood for the whole movie and the middle act that sparks a little hope, the third act delivers the all-hell-breaks-loose moment. But, when it comes to the rampant, #Alive feels dull. The set-pieces lack of momentum; they feel like some sort of obligatory phases that went from mediocre to simply lackluster. Some plot points in the third act emerge from thin air even when it’s meant well. At this point, nobody would complaint if a literal deus ex machina comes at any moment.
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When it all comes to an end, I would sit and wait for the credit to roll and unravel the involvement of state’s power or telecommunication corporations. Aside from that and the involvement of the titular hashtag, thanks to the social media culture, #Alive offers nothing particularly new and nothing particularly outdated in zombie apocalypse tropes. If not for the relatability or the chemistry between the two main actors, the zombies would have opted to catch the train to Busan instead of hunting some Seoulite nerds.