Taiwan’s first zombie film Zombie 108 attempts to nip at the heels of the big boys, like an undead terrier. Does it succeed?
Taiwanese director Joe Chein‘s attempt to expand the oversubscribed zombie canon into the Far East may be clumsy and clichéd, but it does have occasional moments of imagination and novelty. Zombie 108 may seem tame to audiences used to Japanese and Korean bloodfests, but Chinese cinema is still in the beginning stages of exploring more horror on the silver screen. This certainly is a step in the right direction, if somewhat exploitative horror is the intended destination.
Funded by nine hundred people via an internet campaign initiated by Chein himself, Zombie 108 takes places in a grim, post-apocalyptic Taipei. A deadly virus has just been released into the population and a SWAT team has been sent to track and evacuate the survivors. In the midst of this is Linda (Yvonne Yao), and her very young daughter Chloe. Caught up in the bloodshed, they manage to escape the marauding zombies by jumping blindly into a passing car that stops besides them, only to discover that the driver is – you guessed it – a mutilated murderer-rapist-torturer. It’s a situation that everybody finds themselves in at one point or another.
While this is going on there is an alternative plot from a few days earlier – 108 hours earlier, in fact (possibly the origin of the title, but it’s impossible to be sure), involving the World’s Most Disgusting Man, an obese club-owner with a penchant for drugs, and his harem of drug addicted girls, struggling to understand what is going on around them. It actually becomes quite touching in a pretty awful, morally questionable way, and it is certainly the strongest of the stories shown here. The integration of the SWAT team into their storyline is inventive, but not executed with the style it perhaps deserves.
Linda’s time in the rape dungeon is typified by lingering shots on her sweat-soaked figure (all women are dressed in tiny shorts and thin vests; the more nippley the better) and moments of light comedy involving her torturer and his dialogue with her daughter Chloe. Oh, the rapist/torturer just doesn’t understand children. Isn’t he adorable? This is what Joe Chein asks us in these scenes, and it’s pretty disgraceful.
Although the film never strives to be realistic, managing even with its cinema-verité shooting style and near-psychotic editing to remain pretty fantastical, the questionable ethics of the film are what stays with the viewer once the buzzy credits finish. It’s unreconstructed, it’s pretty dull, and it’s clichéd, but it could lead to something better and its innovative funding strategy has demonstrated that independent film-makers need not rely on traditional sources of funding.