As the zombie apocalypse takes over Hyosan High School, Lee Chungsan (Yoon Chanyoung) peers at the window of an isolated classroom and in describing the scene states, “It’s Train to Busan.”
Blood, violence, gore, bullying, and even sexual assault: Netflix’s All of Us Are Dead is a modern zombie series that packs a punch—yet, its overall premise gets hounded down by its many overarching subplots.
The 12-episode K-drama is based on the webtoon comic Now at Our School by Joo Donggeun which revolves around students who protect themselves from the gruesome zombie apocalypse. Perhaps, this is why the adaptation caught the attention of curious fans at first glance—since this time, young adults are taking over the disaster.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
The adaptation dives headfirst to the root of the zombie apocalypse where a student named Jinsu was bullied by high school delinquents. The secluded rooftop, set in the fictional town of Hyosan, is the background of the face-to-face torture as the victim fights back and begs the bullies to stop.
Suddenly, Jinsu’s limbs snap as he charges toward the bullies—with a bloody uniform and an animal-like demeanor. Jinsu gets outnumbered and tossed down the alley below. He’s alive but has already transformed into a blood-hungry zombie. The scene then shifts to a hospital where he’s met by a mysterious man (Kim Byungchul) who apologizes for his fate.
The zombie-fied Jinsu, however, attacks the man. Although, it seems like the latter knows how to deal with the incident since he beats up the student (with the Holy Bible as a weapon) and stuffs his body in a suitcase.
We then fast forward to Hyosan High School as the students and staff remain with no clue about the previous incident. As we get a quick introduction to Chungsan and Nam Onjo’s (Park Jihoo) budding chemistry, the unassuming Kim Hyunju (Jung Yiseo) gets bitten by a rabid caged hamster in the science lab.
The surprised Hyunju bumps into the mysterious man, who turns out to be the students’ science teacher. Upon seeing the bite mark on her finger, the teacher immediately holds her captive and keeps track of her condition. Unknowingly, Hyunju becomes patient zero of what will soon develop into a bloodthirsty zombie apocalypse in Hyosan.
Unaware of the looming outbreak, the rest of the characters are introduced to the viewers. Chungsan harbors a longtime crush on Onjo (who blushes every time her hair is down), however, she has feelings for the school bad boy Lee Soohyuk (Park Solomon). Choi Namra (Cho Yihyun) is the cold class president who’s running for honors, while Lee Nayeon (Lee Yoomi) is the “I’m better than you” student who often gets teased for her personality.
Meanwhile, Yoon Gwinam (Yoo Insoo) is a delinquent who’s one of Jinsu’s torturers. He often targets students behind the faculty’s back—often masquerading his actions as immature fun. One of his poor victims is a female student who’s forced to show her breasts—with another victim recording her.
The familiar atmosphere in Hyosan High School is interrupted when the zombie-fied Hyunju (who’s already being reported by authorities as missing) shows up at English class. The teacher catches her mid-fall, freaking out over her bloody and corpse-like appearance. She then rushes the student to the clinic along with Onjo, Soohyuk, and an unnamed student. On the other hand, the jealous Chungsan was left behind with his classmates.
Hyunju’s condition goes from bad to worse in the clinic as her temperature quickly drops and her limbs crack. With an ounce of sanity left, she accuses her science teacher of attempted murder. She’s eventually brought to the hospital and the English teacher begs the nurse and students to not tell a soul of what happened.
The unnamed student, however, rushes back to class to gossip about the science teacher. Before the incident, he has earned a reputation for his “weird personality” and “corpse-like smell.”
Unfortunately, Hyunju’s condition is a prelude to disaster as the nurse turns into a zombie after being bitten. The zombie apocalypse—which seems like an underlying virus of some sort—quickly spreads like wildfire at Hyosan High School.
The frenzy intensifies as the remaining survivors, including the titular characters, get trapped in the school with no form of communication with the outside world. They’re unable to contact authorities and their parents since their cellphones are confiscated during school hours. Even if they’re aware of zombies, the whiplash of the apocalypse forces them to survive together.
Sadly, the zombie apocalypse exits the boundaries of Hyosan High School and spreads into the province. The victims including villagers, health workers, and policemen, among others get infected by the mysterious virus.
Satisfying victories—with a handful of flaws
Nothing is more frustrating for K-drama fans than watching a series with potential get bogged down by its subpar cast. Luckily, the up-and-coming actors carry their own weight in making the series a must-watch.
No one is a standout in the acting department, which seems intentional on director Lee Jaekyoo’s part since every character is meant to have their shining moment. Don’t get us wrong. Yoon Chanyoung, Park Jihoo, Cho Yihyun, Park Solomon, Yoo Insoo, Lee Yoomi acted the hell out of their roles. Perhaps, the actors are meant to bring out the best in each other—with no room for outshining moments.
Meanwhile, the emphasis on gore and carnage is what makes All of Us Are Dead a must-watch thriller. The use of choreography in the cracking of the zombies’ limbs and bloody makeup is creepingly well-done. Like in signature K-drama fashion, visuals always play a huge role in making their media work.
On the other hand, the zombie apocalypse premise is always a blank canvas for a potential hit. Using high school students as the main cast is a welcome change from the overused lineup from its other counterparts. However, their personal stories are sadly reduced to the sidelines to make way for the gory outbreak.
It’s an understandable move since the series doesn’t follow the typical 16-episode formula. However, the characters deserve to have their personalities and backstories as a force to drive the story further.
At the same time, since the series also talks about bullying and sexual assault, we wish the creators would’ve put more effort into the social commentary as much as the zombie-focused premise. Bullying, sexual assault, and class struggle deserve to be discussed in mainstream pop culture whether we like it or not.
Overall, All of Us Are Dead is a satisfying and terrifying watch bbut with certain parts left to be desired. It’s an overwhelming addition to the zombie apocalypse trope in all of its brutal glory with a unique perspective on how a young adult would react in times of disaster.
The K-drama will have a total of 12 episodes, with each episode having a runtime of approximately 42 minutes each.
Netflix’s All of Us Are Dead will premiere on Friday, Jan. 28 at 4:00 p.m. (Philippine Standard Time).