“Rampant” is a 2018 South Korean historical action zombie film directed by Kim Sung-hoon and penned by Hwang Jo-yun. It follows the successful path of other Korean zombie movies with the blockbuster movie “The train to Busan” having the lead.
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The story of “Rampant” in contrast to its precedents, it takes place in the Joseon era currently ruled by King Lee Jo (Kim Eui-sung) who sees his Kingdom falling apart. The opening sequence of the movie includes a battle on a flaming ship carrying guns. Crown Prince Lee Young (cameo by Kim Tae-woo) was willing to buy these guns in order to fight the Qing army, despite the opposition from the King. Conspiracies fill the palace and the war minister Kim Ja-joon (Jang Dong-gun) having his own secret agenda with the target to ascend the throne, he becomes the leader of an upcoming uprising. Minister Kim Ja-hoon to facilitate his plans, he exposes Crown Prince Lee Young’s plans to the King. This revelation and the King’s belief the Crown Prince Lee Young committed high treason, leaves Crown Prince with no other choice but to take his own life.
However, before Crown Prince’s death, he has sent a letter to his womanizer younger brother, Prince Gang Lim (Hyun Bin) who was given to the Qing Empire as a political hostage. In his letter, he requests Prince Gang Lim to return to Joseon and help his pregnant wife (Han Ji-eun) to escape from the palace. As soon as Prince Lee Chung arrives at Joseon, he has to deal and be responsible for far more than he initially bargained for. Not only he has to help his brother’s wife to safely leave Joseon and to protect the throne of his father from Kim Ja-joon, but most importantly, he has to protect the palace and the people of Joseon from the ‘’demons’’ who go rampant during the night to find human flesh to consume.
As expected the movie does not focus only on the undeniably astonishing action sequences but on character development as well. A prime example is the carefree Prince Lee Chung. Underneath his self-centred is a sincerely caring character who is concerned about the future of Joseon and its people. His insensitive character shown at the beginning of the story, probably is just a persona that he created so to be able to survive physically and emotionally away from his county. As the plot progress, he willingly protects the people he has to protect utilising his clever mind and his sword fighting skills. The portrayal of Prince Lee Chung by the charismatic heartthrob Hyun Bin is remarkable and he masterfully conveys the worries and fears inflicted by the presence of the monsters.
One of the better and funniest characters in the movie is Hak-Soo (Jeong Man-sik), the trustworthy, but coward as well guard of Prince Lee Chung. He is always there to stop the impulsive Prince Lee Chung, being his voice of logic and stopping him from making rash decisions. More of that, he gives a light feeling to the movie and provides genuine laughs with his actions and expressions, due to the exceptional portrayal of the character by actor Jeong Man-sik.
As for the script at the beginning was quite simple and straightforward – man vs zombies, but Hwang Jo-yun does not disappoint and he delivers a plot with underlying meanings which come to the surface little by little. Hwang Jo-yun combines masterfully the reality with fiction. He takes the premise of Joseon with the known events of the capture of Joseon Princesses and Princes by Qing Dynasty as hostages and the conspiracies in the palace and incorporates them with the zombies’ uprising.
The aforementioned impressively choreographed sword-fight scenes, the truly breath-taking cinematography by Lee Sung-jae with gorgeous panoramic shots of the palace, the mesmerizing and colorful hanboks and Kim Sung-hoon’s firm and faultless direction add to the whole cinematic experience. As for the music written by In Young-Park is utterly gripping and perfectly fits every scene and creates even more tension.
The only drawback is the lack of character development for the villain. A well written and balanced villain who can effortlessly gain the viewers’ sympathy, is always welcomed. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Minister Kim Ja-Joon who is utterly soulless without any single strand of humanity. Despite that, Jang Dong-gun does not disappoint at all and delivers another spectacular performance with the material he has on his hands.
Regardless, the minor unconvincing actions by the characters, “Rampant” is a highly compelling and entertaining movie which will leave fans of zombie movies and fans of historical movies highly pleased.