I wonder where all these Asian zombie movies are coming from all of a sudden. Last month, I watched Train to Busan, a South Korean zombie action flick with a unique setting and a powerful ending. This month, I Am A Hero was just released in theatres here. My friend informed me that I Am A Hero was originally a Japanese manga, and it actually inspired the Train to Busan film.
Warning: Some spoilers follow. Stop reading now if you don’t want to be spoiled.
What I really liked about I Am A Hero was the simple motif that it was trying to convey: Ordinary, average human beings, are capable of doing extraordinary things with the right motivation. The main character, Hideo Suzuki, is a struggling manga artist trying to make ends meet and to keep his relationship with his girlfriend together. When the zombie outbreak hits, Hideo meets up with a schoolgirl stranger, Hiromi, and they become good friends by helping each other to survive. It all builds up to a classic zombie last-stand finale, where Hideo defeats an entire horde of zombies with his shotgun to help Hiromi and another female ally escape.
The zombies were really unsettling in this film. From their strange, contorted facial and eyeball expressions, to the way they continue uttering or performing the final actions of their non-undead lives. And of course, the spider-walking. It’s always the spider-walking that creeps everyone out. All of these are unique ideas that give the zombies some character, and I hope we can see more of this in future zombie media.
The pacing of I Am A Hero fell flat at certain points as it was trying too hard to convey drama and character development between Hideo and the rest of cast. I felt that the leader of the rooftop survivors and his gang deserved a bit more screen time. You don’t need to create another Governor from The Walking Dead — just show us more of their personalities, their histories, and motivations. It would have made their heel turns much more powerful and impactful.
I won’t ask how Hideo suddenly had access to so much shotgun shells stashed inside a bullet vest (which he suddenly acquired from nowhere — he wasn’t carrying it with him when he made his escape from the city), or how a point-blank shotgun blast to the head wasn’t enough to destroy High Jump Zombie’s brains. I’m just grateful that the film didn’t use Hiromi for a superpowered half-zombie vs zombie horde finale. That would have shredded away all of the film’s build-up and credibility until then.
It seems that The Walking Dead’s slow, shambling Romero-style zombies just aren’t that exciting anymore. Fast zombies (and high jumping zombies) are back with a vengeance. Zombies are a very specific sub-genre of horror that reached its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s, then suddenly made a comeback in the early 2000s. The Walking Dead, Plants vs Zombies, Left 4 Dead, I Am A Hero, and Train to Busan: I’m curious to see where all of this will lead. It’s a good time to be a fan of zombies again.
Meanwhile, I guess I’ll go check out the I Am A Hero manga. It’s already been translated into two English volumes by Dark Horse.