Before Wilson Yip created the famous Ip Man series, he directed Hong Kong’s first zombie movie with Bio Zombie (Sang faa sau see). This 1998 horror comedy takes loads of inspiration from George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead – in fact, setting its storyline around a shopping arcade that’s effectively a Hong Kong version of a mall – but melding these ideas with more slapstick elements akin to Return of the Living Dead. The results are about as inconsistent as that premise sounds, offering up the occasional bits of humor interspersed with a fair amount of low budget zombie gore and grue.
The film focuses in on two antiheroes, Woody Invincible (Jordan Chan) and ZomBee (Sam Lee), who run a VCD store in a shopping arcade. The two are bumbling layabouts more interested in boobs and drinking than doing real work, and throughout Yip’s characterization of them results in the viewer disliking these guys more and more as the film plods along. Eventually, the film finds the two accidentally bringing a zombie back to the shopping arcade, turned due to a dangerous chemical administered into a Lucozade drink. From there, our unlikely duo – along with a few other stragglers in the arcade – must escape with limited knowledge of zombie-killing and even less weaponry.
One can see flashes of greatness in Yip’s direction here; occasionally there are stylistic elements – slow motion fugues, frame shudders, action choreography – that hint at the later martial arts marvels of Ip Man. That’s not to mention the heightened amount of colored lighting straight from the ’90s. But all too often Bio Zombie feels as slow as the shuffling of its zombies. It takes a long time for the zombie action to turn up; nearly 45 minutes is spent on the goofy antics of the two slackers, wasting a lot of the viewer’s good will watching unlikable guys bully people or attempt to rob a woman in the bathroom. While Bio Zombie‘s intentions seem to be Dawn of the Dead with comedy, the silliness is turned up too far to really be enjoyable.
Once the zombies start to make an appearance, the film finds some better footing. It’s easy enough to overlook the amateurish makeup effects, and Yip does structure some scenes well enough to conjure suspense. The Romero inspiration is obvious, but it’s clear that Yip does have a love of the subgenre outside of the Dead films as well – sometimes even drawing from video games like House of the Dead. The downbeat ending, too, comes out of left field but actually buoys the movie from feeling too forgettable; it certainly doesn’t mesh with the previous slapstick humor, but the depressing conclusion sticks with the viewer when the comedy does not.
Bio Zombie is something of a mixed bag. It shows the promise that Yip would showcase as a director in subsequent years, but it also is a particularly frustrating watch through much of its runtime, bogged down by too many unnecessary scenes of slacker antics. With that said, it does seem like a particularly personal film from Yip, documenting a specific era in his culture rife with nostalgia. If viewers can stumble through the first half, they may find an enjoyable initial zombie outing from Hong Kong.
Vinegar Syndrome has released Bio Zombie on Blu-ray with a new “studio supplied master with additional restoration from Vinegar Syndrome.” There’s no additional information about what that means, but this transfer still looks particularly good in HD. This features a medium-high film grain but very little damage to whatever print was used. As previously mentioned, the film employs a lot of different lighting elements and the color grading is handled very well, with lots of visceral blue, yellow, and green hues (see our color barcode, where you can really see the color elements). Detail is quite high, especially in facial textures, and this release may be the best video quality we’ll see for this movie – and certainly many steps above a VCD rip.
Audio is presented with the film’s original Cantonese 2.0 stereo track, as well as an alternate Mandarin dub. Both sound fine with no noticeable flaws, though I would probably recommend the Cantonese just for veracity’s sake. English subtitles as well as subtitles for SDH are included as well.
Extras on the disc include a new audio commentary with Frank Djeng, who provides exceptional detail about the various cast members in the movie as well as contextual information about shopping arcades, cultural elements, and more. An interview with Wilson Yip conducted by Frédéric Ambroisine finds Yip reminiscing about the inspiration behind the film, his love of zombie movies, and perhaps a new zombie movie from him in the works. A new visual essay from film historian Chris O’Neill covers the film’s various elements like the use of shopping arcades, the setup for the contaminated Lucozade, and more themes explored implicitly in the story. An alternate ending is also provided, which differs slightly from the film’s theatrical ending and, in my opinion, was a good choice to excise.
Also new to this release is a booklet featuring two essays. The first is from critic Rod Lott and covers the appeal of this first zombie film from Hong Kong, and the second comes from film programmer Ariel Esteban Cayer which explores the survival of shopping arcades in Hong Kong and includes a photo gallery of those arcades now. Reversible cover artwork is also included.
- Region Free Blu-ray
- NEW Studio supplied master with additional restoration performed by VS
- Presented in both it’s original Cantonese language soundtrack with newly translated English subtitles and a Mandarin language dub track
- NEW commentary track with film historian Frank Djeng
- NEW “Bio Zombie” – an interview with co-writer/director Wilson Yip by Frédéric Ambroisine (1080p; 18:59)
- NEW “Video Games, Contaminated Lucozade and Human Sushi” – a video essay by film historian Chris O’Neill (1080p; 12:37)
- Alternate Ending of Bio-Zombie (1080p; 3:17)
- NEW 20-page booklet with essay by author Rod Lott and film programmer / writer Ariel Esteban Cayer
- NEW Reversible sleeve artwork
- NEW translated English subtitles
Bio Zombie is a moderately enjoyable experience most notable for its status as first Hong Kong zombie movie; here, Vinegar Syndrome collects a number of extra features, a great booklet of essays, and a solid video transfer to make this worth purchasing for your collection.