A Mixed Update - 2/5/2022
Sequels, Schools, and Silence
So the box office numbers are in for South Korea’s Lunar New Year weekend and…the performance was an underwhelming one. The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure has only just barely managed to clear the million-viewer mark. Now that Spider-Man: No Way Home has proven that South Korean audiences will come out for the right movie, to the tune of seven million admissions, there simply isn’t any good way to excuse the complete inability of South Korean blockbusters to perform well domestically anymore. Of course, Spider-Man: No Way Home was itself an event that’s unlikely to be replicated, leaning as hard as it did on five unrelated Spider-Man movies. But let’s take this one day at a time.
Beyond the box office, another interesting story about South Korean contents has popped up- namely the worldwide yet invisible success of All of Us Are Dead, which has rocketed to the top of the international Netflix charts. Yesterday the high school zombie series even made the number one show in the United States. For those who remember my previously mentioned distinction between shows licensed by Netflix and those produced by Netflix, All of Us Are Dead is indeed the latter. All twelve episodes are available to watch right now.
What I personally find more interesting than the show itself is the utter paucity of any English language material discussing it. No major English-language media publication is writing about All of Us Are Dead at all. If you remember last year’s Squid Game hype, this might seem a bit baffling. Sure, Squid Game had bigger numbers faster- but we were promised new exciting media content from South Korea courtesy of Netflix, and now that it’s here, hardly a peep about it in the press! What’s the deal?
The answer shouldn’t surprise those of you who’ve read my previous columns on the subject. The short of it is, All of Us Are Dead is unavoidably low-brow and low-class. That’s not my subjective opinion. Just as a matter of genre, high school stories are considered by media journalists to be something only immature young people consume, and zombies aren’t much better. We’re a long way off from the first season of The Walking Dead, which was promoted as serious prestige television, or Train to Busan, with its not particularly subtle cultural commentary about class distinctions.
All of Us Are Dead does have a lot to say about school bullying, but that’s immaterial. Whenever commentators say that South Korea is bringing fresh new entertainment, what they actually mean is that whatever recent South Korean show they just watched matches their own political mood and sensibilities. This was true with Squid Game, it was true with Parasite, and it was true with the last generation of Korean New Wave films which were heralded as fantastic new storytelling. The reality of South Korean media has always been that such highbrow projects were the exception rather than the rule. And I don’t expect this to change when the next viral South Korean hit comes along and is written about with awe and wonder by people who immediately lost interest in the market once Squid Game finished.