Ground Zero @ School
The ground zero of this particular “zombie” series is in a high school in Hyosan city. The series starts off quite violently, with a smaller-sized kid being physically bullied and beaten by schoolmates. The series then zoomed into the more ordinary daily life of the high school – silly banters, jealousy, puppy love – typical teenager teasing with a darker undercurrent.
The science teacher, Lee Byeong-chan (who is also the father of the bullied kid at the start) ominously starts behaving strangely to tell the story of how certain parasites have such strong wills to live that they start taking over as the dominant in a symbiotic relationship. As more events are revealed, an infected girl Hyeon-ju escapes and her bites prove to be lethal in spreading the “virus” which turns many of the bitten into zombies, first in the school then in the hospital. Once bitten, the zombies’ transformations are extremely rapid, resulting in the multiplication of victims and ultimate halt of daily mundane lives.
Pursuant to setting the scene of an apocalypse with focus on ground zero at the school, the series re-focus to the various characters, their high-strung emotions & undercurrent with the wild scenarios for their ultimate survival.
Childhood friends cum neighbour – Cheong-san and On-jo are well-loved by their parents with balanced emotions and strong foundation of principles. As they manoeuvre through the initial confusions of the epidemic of “zombification” of their schoolmates, their strong values & beliefs flourish to drive their responses. Cheong-san turns out to be loyal, brave and righteous – doing the right thing and never giving up no matter how difficult it seems. His mother would be so proud of him. I am actually very sad at the implied ending for Cheong-san, as he is so deserving of more.
Initially, On-jo is unsure of her own responses, but as they go through more experiences, she gains confidence to push ahead for survival. I always thought that On-jo is such a lucky girl as she is well-beloved by family and friends, and heavily protected during their escape from school, likely growing in a healthy environment. But her description of the heavy sorrow of a survivor is just too much to bear.
Unlikely couple – previously delinquent Su-hyeok and studious class president Nam-ra, develops their feelings through the trying times. Su-hyeok has always had a soft spot for Nam-ra. Her choice to assist Su-hyeok while fighting off Gwi-nam seals their feelings & reiterate their care for each other.
Archer Ha-ri and brother Woo-jin are also an inspiring pair. Ha-ri, who speaks very little, maintains a cool head and helps as much as she can especially with her smaller group before reuniting with her brother. The ending for Woo-jin is very sad, but proves that sibling loves are equally heart-wrenching. Ha-ri’s character is one that I like – less talk more actions.
One character I really like is the police officer Jae-ik, who also investigated the disappearance of science teacher Byeong Chan’s son. His conscience keeps telling him to stop-by and help others – first his own junior, then the baby & a younger girl, the youtuber on the roof and list goes on. He combines his experiences in investigations, his own intuition and compassion for helping others. The world is definitely a better place with existence of such characters.
Villain Gwi-nam is really painted as pure evil. I do not really understand the character. When he is weaker than others, he plays along as the goof to other stronger bullies, and when he obtains strength from being infected, he becomes obsessed with taking revenge towards Cheong-san. Is this his concept of survival of the fittest?
Bullying and its widespread application
Bullying at school is one key theme spread out for the viewers. Physical bullying as experienced by science teacher Byeong Chan’s son, sexual bullying as experienced by Eun-ji through forced recording in nude, psychological bullying as experienced by Gyeong-su who is in on welfare assistance. In actual fact, the whole apocalypse is driven by a father’s experimentation on the virus which went haywire to assist his bullied son!
One main incident that sparks questions is how Na-yeon intentionally rubs infected blood on Gyeong-su’s injuries, resulting in him being infected and turned into zombie. Na-yeon is probably considered the resident bit**. Her holier-than-thou attitude and condescending behaviour towards others such as Gyeong-su for the sole purpose that they are on welfare assistance is telling on her insecurity. Her response towards situations is always to blame others, refusing to participate in helping and continuously putting down others. She refuses to open the room with access to food and drinks, locking out her schoolmates. For me, what is not acceptable is not so much her will to live, but her selfishness for her own survival is at the expense of others.
The series also explore committed parents and their quest to look for their children amidst all the confusion. Cheong-san’s mother. On-jo’s father. Both looking for alternative ways to ensure their children are safe, even at their own life.
Role of politician and military during the crisis is less explored herewith, but there are bits and pieces strewn as snippets of the series. The entitled assembly woman cum politician – displaying her power by being demanding and turning the situation into a PR exercise. Deplorable, but very much realistic in real political life of mud-slinging.
In applying military rules especially in the absence of adequate information, it is always difficult to make strict decision to isolate but the military’s decision to abandon the school children at the rooftop, that is something I could not understand. And the lack of communication to comfort and ensure the survival of the children (they are really just children) is deplorable. The way I see it – the military could obtain more information about the situation in the school and virus by taking in the children by applying safety in their rescue mission.
But the series also portrays the Martial Law Commander in a more humane manner, as he takes the hard stance on bombing the city (and murdering innocent lives with the action). The scene whereby he calls his wife in his last moment before pulling the trigger, it is such a mundane daily call with discussion on family life. The guilt on such hard decision-making is something not everyone is able to stomach.
The series is surprisingly very good in assessing the humanity of mankind during a crisis to survive. The morale questions are realistic and valid. There is no right or wrong in a person’s decision, but they will need to face up to the consequences. The society has unwritten rules on what is acceptable behaviour. These unwritten rules for acceptable behaviour changes through the generations, and during different circumstances as well. What is quite disturbing is the degree of acceptance of bullying in the school, and its psychological impact to various individuals.
The series does frustrate me at certain times with the characters & their resposes, but generally raises deep-provoking questions. Apocalypse series are always an interesting lot, attracting a lot of attention from viewers. Many are so addicted to the story line, and I can understand why as these survival stories poke our own deep conscience and values, especially if we are in the same situation.
The violence of the series is palpable, even in the school scenes before the epidemic spread with zombies. Not a good idea to watch the series while eating. The ending is open – providing a little hope for all, and raising more questions on those infected but did not turn into full zombies. Season 2 should be in the line-up, I guess.