Flash Review: Zombie Detective

Sometimes, it does pay to step out of one’s drama comfort zone, after all.

When this show first came out, I’d had no intention of checking it out, because, 1, I’m not into zombies, 2, I’m not much into crime, and the word detective in the title implies there’s crime in this, and 3, I’ve never been a huge Choi Jin Hyuk fan.

HOWEVER. Enough of you spoke of this show enthusiastically – saying that it’s so much wholesome fun – that I just had to give it a look.

So, full disclosure: I actually made two different attempts at watching this show.

The first time I watched episode 1, I honestly wasn’t feeling it much. I felt that the funny fell mostly flat for me, and our story wasn’t quite popping for me either. I figured that this just wasn’t a show that was for me, and half decided to drop it.

However, on my second attempt, several months later, I found that I actually liked it more than I thought I would. Yay for second chances? 😃

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review. In terms of actual tracks, I found that I was most drawn to Track 1, Be Ok. Somehow, I feel like the rock-edged angsty ballad sort of sound seems to fit this show’s melancholic underbelly very well.

If you’d like to just listen to Be Ok on repeat, here it is as well. Just right-click on the video and select “Loop.”

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

I do think that it’s important to manage your expectations going into this one, so here’s what I think is most helpful:

1. The best lens for this show, that I can think of, is the comic book lens. That takes care of a lot of the OTT, absurd, farcical elements; I can totally imagine this story happening in a comic book universe.

2. Show does take some time to settle, so a little patience would be helpful.

3. Show can be a little uneven as well. Sometimes it’s easy and fun to watch; sometimes it’s less fun. But overall, the better parts outweigh the less good bits. Bearing this in mind helps as well.

STUFF I LIKED

Choi Jin Hyuk as Moo Young 

Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve never been a big fan of Choi Jin Hyuk; I’ve generally found his delivery to lean on the stiff side of things. However, I am very pleasantly surprised by just how effective he is, in this role.

After hearing his voiceovers in Mr. Queen, and watching him in this, I’m coming to the conclusion that Choi Jin Hyuk is really good at droll comedy. A lot of my enjoyment of this show, comes from the droll zombie funny, which I’ll talk more about in the next section. I just wanted to highlight upfront, that a lot of the credit goes to Choi Jin Hyuk, for pulling it off so well. 🤩

I also found myself growing fond of Moo Young as a character. Show manages to infuse Moo Young with a lot of earnestness and poignance, and there were quite a few times when I found my heart going out to Moo Young, in the midst of the comedy. I thought that was very nicely done.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. The way our zombie struggles to come to terms with his zombie-ness is sad and funny at the same time. The way he’s horrified at his desire to eat people and animals; the way he tries to kill himself and realizes that he can’t die; the way he struggles to move fast, but can’t; these very human responses to the zombie state of being are what make our zombie empathetic and endearing, and he’s growing on me pretty nicely.

I have to love how determined our zombie is, in rehabilitating himself, so that he can move and talk like a human. His utter joy at accomplishing his rehabilitation goals is really cute.

Also, how humane of our zombie, to refrain from eating the body of the man who’d gotten murdered, and give him a burial instead. His ability to ignore his hunger for more noble ideals is commendable, especially given how hungry he always is, heh.

I’m glad for our zombie that he’s unwittingly found a way to live among people, by taking on the identity of the dead man, and taking over his private detective office. Also, that’s some powerful BB cream that he’s found, ha. I’m just going to assume that he had the money to pay for it, from folding those pizza boxes.

E5. Choi Jin Hyuk is great in this role; his deadpan droll delivery is perfect here. I love the shifty gaze that he typically wears; it’s such a great expression of his tamped down jitteriness. Like, I can totally tell that he’s nervous, even though he’s trying to play it cool. It works so well for this role.

E5. Moo Young getting a suit tailored with the money he earned is great. It’s a nice touch, that he does this because of what Seon Ji says, that it’s not a bad thing to earn money as a detective, while looking into his past. Plus, Choi Jin Hyuk cleans up great in a well-fitted suit. The combination of a polished suit and Moo Young’s guy-linered zombie angst is so great; I love it. 🤩 This might be the most attracted I’ve been to Choi Jin Hyuk, ever.

The confident slo-mo victory walk, where he throws away not only his hat and gloves, but his zombie insecurities as well – because he doesn’t feel the need to hide anymore is pretty great.

Speaking of which, that zombie shirtless scene was epic. The gray veiny cast on his skin doesn’t disguise just how ripped Choi Jin Hyuk is, and his confused, bemused expression, combined with the holes in his body from being impaled before, is such a great mishmash of things. It feels so interestingly dissonant and kinda hot, while being funny.

E6. Moo Young’s musing is quite thought-provoking, “To be born and to die as a certain person, to know the reason for that person’s death, and to grieve for that death. I wonder what it feels like?” Even though Moo Young’s already dead, this is something that he yearns for and wonders about, and there’s quite a lot of pathos in that.

E7. Moo Young tagging along to Joon Woo’s birthday party is quite amusing and wholesome. Even though he doesn’t get to eat the beef sashimi that he’d brought, and ends up only grilling the meat and not being able to eat it raw, and somehow sets himself on fire, being surrounded by these rowdy humans somehow gives him a moment where he feels kind of human too. And that’s poignant and sweet.

E7. Moo Young hitting it off with Seon Ji’s brother-in-law is very amusing, because of how viscerally the topic of zombies affects them both. They both finally feel understood, and I feel like these two might have found their soulmates, ha.

E8. Poor Moo Young; the way he gets all depressed at his alleged depravity and starts to plot his zombie demise is so dorky and hilarious. He’s such a good egg, seriously. Even though he has no memories of it, the idea that he’d been evil and murdered a little girl is enough to make him want to drill his brains out.

E8. As expected, Hyeong Cheol (Lee Ga Sub) was lying through his teeth, and Moo Young’s innocent after all. I’m happy with Show for finding multiple silly ways to foil Moo Young’s suicide attempts, from having the power drill fail on him just before the tip touches his temple, to having Tae Kyun literally drag his body out from the forbidden entry gates that he was attempting to crawl through. Ha. 😆

E8. There’s a fair bit of dark comedy around Hyeong Cheol’s dismay at Moo Young being so hard to kill. Ha. I got quite a bit of satisfaction outta that. Especially at the part where Hyeong Cheol realizes that Moo Young survived the car explosion.

E8. Mom (Shin Yun Sook) turning out to be Moo Young’s mother is really a sad note this episode. She may have lost her lucidity, but she still recognizes her son, and she’d still put her life on the line to protect her son. Sob.

I can’t blame Moo Young for wanting to attack Hyeong Cheol with a vengeance, after Mom’s death. It’s so horrifying, that he’d regain his memories of Mom, at the moment of her death.

E9. Moo Young’s such an earnest soul. The way he leaves everything behind, not even touching the money, even though he’d helped to earn it, because he felt it belongs to the real Kim Moo Young (Yun Ki Chang), is so mournfully honest. And then he becomes such a sad little sack, picking ants off the ground to eat, because he has no money. Poor silly ol’ Moo Young.

[END SPOILER]

The droll zombie funny

Although Show’s efforts at Funny didn’t always work for me, I have to admit that I laughed a lot during my watch; more than I generally do while watching dramas. That’s Quite Something.

Like I mentioned earlier, a lot of credit goes to Choi Jin Hyuk’s delivery; he really makes Moo Young very entertaining in a very droll way. His bemused voiceovers add a really solid layer to the physical comedy, which in itself is very amusing. My favorite thing, might be the way Moo Young opens his mouth as wide as possible, while trying to fight his instinct to eat people. His nervous, shifty-eyed silence, while his thoughts race in voiceover, is also really funny.

Here’s the spotlight on some of the Funny which I enjoyed.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. Moo Young’s desperation to stay away from humans, and his desperation to blend in with them, so that he can eat, and his desperation to abstain from eating humans, combine to make him hilariously jumpy and angsty.

Moo Young’s zombie dance gig is pretty funny too, with the way he basically takes centerstage among the fake zombies, and then outlasts them all, all for the hope of tripe stew, ha.

E3. I like Show’s funny touches, like when Moo Young revels in spritzing himself with air-freshener instead of cologne. He looks so pleased and happy and content that I almost want to try it too, lol.

E3. Moo Young and Seon Ji receiving a missing persons case, which lands Moo Young in a fasting center which is a cover for a cult is a bizarre turn of events. But I do have to giggle at Moo Young’s intense discomfort at being around other people, and his desperation to keep his raw meat with him. Moo Young’s zombie flexibility impressing his yoga instructor is also rather amusing. Mostly, though, it’s Moo Young’s wide-eyed quizzical expression that kinda makes things funnier.

E4. The way Seon Ji badgers Moo Young to go back to the case is quite extreme and ridiculous, but with the absurdist lens, it’s reasonably entertaining. The funny mostly comes from Choi Jin Hyuk’s droll expressions, like when he’s trying to resist the smell of the tripe that Seon Ji is cooking right outside his office, because she knows he loves it.

E4. Any time Moo Young shows unadulterated joy, he’s very endearing. Like when he gets excited while describing why tripe is delicious, or while he rejoices over the temporary lack of money troubles, while sitting in a bubble bath. He’s quite a cute zombie, I have to admit.

I also find it very entertaining every time Moo Young gets shocked by his own fight skillz, thanks to muscle memory trumping his actual memories. Surprise badassery is one of my favorite drama things, but this is extra surprising, because it doesn’t only surprise me as a viewer, it also surprises Moo Young, whose body has moves and reflexes that he never even imagined.

It’s quite funny, really, the way the cult people turn around and laud Moo Young as the true Almighty, after they realize that Lee Gwang Sik is a fake. And all Moo Young wants to do, is get away from all the Crazy. I giggled out loud at that one.

E6. Moo Young watching makjang dramas and imagining himself as having lived a makjang life, is quite amusing. Pfft, at Show managing to fit in ready-to-eat tripe stew PPL, during Moo Young’s fantasy sequence.

E6. The scene where Moo Young fights the wild boar is ridiculous and quite amusing. The CGI is so obvious, and the shots of Moo Young getting tossed around are obviously meant to be cartoony and OTT. It’s also quite funny, that Moo Young gets all this media attention, for catching the wild boar with his bare hands.

[END SPOILER]

The partnership between Moo Young and Seon Ji

Although it takes a while to happen, when Seon Ji and Moo Young start working together, their partnership became one of my bright spots in this show.

Given that they start our story pretty much as enemies, it’s heartwarming to watch them come around to each other, and start to trust each other. Also, I do think that Seon Ji’s persistent cheeriness is a perfect foil to Moo Young’s shifty-eyed grumpiness. They complement each other nicely.

For the record, I’m also pleased that Show doesn’t attempt to make this relationship a romantic one, even though there are hints in our finale, that Seon Ji might be interested in Moo Young romantically.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. It’s good to see that Seon Ji enjoys the work at the detective agency and actually wants to continue. Plus, she really does seem to think that Moo Young’s a good person. It’s actually thoughtful of her to seek him out with a box of fried chicken.

E5. I like that Seon Ji is now past the stage of being frightened of Moo Young. It’s a nice touch, that before and after she finds out his zombie truth, she’s still convinced that he’s a good person.

Aw. How decent of Moo Young, to carry Seon Ji to the hospital on his back, and pay for her hospital bills as well. It’s no wonder Seon Ji is able to get over her fear of him eating her.

I like that the building of trust has to flow both ways. Not only does Seon Ji need to believe that Moo Young won’t eat her, Moo Young also has to believe that Seon Ji won’t betray him. And that little beat, of her saving him from the police interrogation on the bus, works nicely to sort that out.

E5. I like how Seon Ji takes Moo Young for tripe stew, and they talk things over. It’s thoughtful of her, to get him some raw tripe, when she realizes that he only eats raw food.

E6. I like the idea of Seon Ji being on Moo Young’s side, and doing everything she can, to help him retrieve his memories. Although the hypnosis thing is rather out there, as is the shaman thing, the key is that she cares enough to do everything possible, and also, eventually, we do get that breakthrough, where she accidentally triggers a memory.

E9. Seon Ji trying to train Moo Young, and getting inspiration from animal training, is sad-sack funny, because poor Moo Young is so offended by the comparison, and yet, can’t argue with it too much. I appreciate her good intentions though, as I’m sure Moo Young does as well.

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-outs:

World King Agency

It took a while for the boys at World King Agency to grow on me, but they did eventually endear themselves to me, and they managed to tickle my funny bone quite nicely, with their ridiculous antics. Plus, Tae Hang Ho and Lee Joong Ok do have pretty good comic timing.

[SPOILER ALERT] I think I am most amused by their terrible tailing skills, which we see in episode 7, when Moo Young gives them the job of tailing Oh Hyeong Cheol, and then in episode 10, when they’re commissioned by Noh Poong Sik (Ha Do Kwon) to tail Moo Young.

In episode 7, their choice of ice cream on wheels as their cover is hilarious, and makes them stick out like a sore thumb. Their pink aprons and their clumsy photo-taking is ridiculous and campy as well. And then in episode 10, their disguise as moving cardboard boxes is just as ridiculous, and I was suitably entertained. [END SPOILER]

Seon Ji’s sister and brother-in-law

Even though Seon Ji’s sister can be pretty harsh on Seon Ji, Hwang Bo Ra makes her theatrical, hilarious and thoroughly entertaining.

I also found Seon Ji’s brother-in-law Tae Kyun amusing, with his zombie fixation and his movie director dreams. Also, how useful, that Tae Kyun’s such a zombie fanatic, since he’s helpfully on hand to provide tidbits of information of what zombies are like. Plus, I find that I have a bit of a soft spot for Ahn Se Ha; he’s got comic timing and a good-natured sort of vibe.

STUFF THAT WORKED OUT TO OK

Park Ju Hyun as Seon Ji

Overall, Park Ju Hyun outing as Seon Ji was just ok, for me. I found Park Ju Hyun’s delivery acceptable, but not outstanding. Somehow, the character sits uncomfortably on her, to my eyes, particularly in the area of Seon Ji’s brightness. That just didn’t come across as very natural, to me.

In the beginning of our story, I found Seon Ji too aggressive for my taste. To Seon Ji’s credit, though, she does show shades of kindness, like [MINOR SPOILER] when she lets our zombie, whom she thinks is a homeless man, keep the hoodie that she left behind, and even gives him some money to get cleaned up at a sauna. [END SPOILER]

By episode 4, Seon Ji stops being full-on aggressive, and becomes more earnest and impassioned, which worked a lot better for me.

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

Some of the filler

I learned to just shrug my shoulders and roll with whatever Show served up, but I will say that I didn’t much care for the movie scenarios that Tae Kyun describes to Moo Young, in episodes 9 and 10.

Your mileage may vary, of course, and you might find it side-splittingly hilarious. Personally, I found it all rather boring, to be brutally honest, and it felt like quite a bit of filler.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how Show wraps up our story. Given Show’s strong comic book flavor, I didn’t have strong expectations that Show would make the effort to tie up loose ends, or tie our story threads together, but Show does both.

We get answers to all our big questions, ie, how and why did Moo Young become a zombie in the first place, why the real Kim Moo Young had been murdered, and what his murderer was up to and why. Not only that, all our key players work together to bring down the zombie that Noh Poong Sik’s become, which was pretty satisfying to watch.

As always, suspension of disbelief is a must, because how did Noh Poong Sik manage to fast-track his zombie evolution, such that he was able to speak, while Moo Young himself had taken 2 years to learn how to speak? Also, Show’s inconsistent about whether zombies bleed or not, because Moo Young’s got these clean holes in his torso with no blood coming out of them, but in these last few episodes, our zombies bleed dark red blood. But, it’s just the sort of thing that I shrug at and move on from, because this is that kind of show. You just don’t take things too seriously, because you’re not meant to.

I did like the group hug that Moo Young gets, when he announces that he’s leaving Gangrim because it’s not right for a zombie to live among humans. Aw. It does feel like, despite Moo Young’s zombie struggles, he’s gained a lot of affection from the people around him. Even the World King Agency boys are sad to see him go.

One of the things that tugs at my heartstrings most in this show, is the way Moo Young thinks of himself as an outsider, and less than. There seems to be this consistent sense of wretchedness about him, which sometimes amplifies to the extent of self-hatred. It seems like it’s this wretchedness that causes him to withdraw into the mountains.

..Which is why I’m pretty willing to forgive Show for pulling a fake-out, having Seon Ji say in voiceover that that was the last time she saw Moo Young – only to have Moo Young show up again, one year later. Pfft. Ordinarily, I would roll my eyes at Show’s attempt to toy with my feelings, but this time, because I’m just glad that Moo Young’s in a steady enough place to be among his human friends again, I’m pretty content to shrug this off.

And, I’m happy with where Show leaves us, with the promise that Moo Young’s going to be working alongside Seon Ji again, and embracing his talents as our titular zombie detective, while Seon Ji helps him track down the doctor who’s developing a cure that’s able to turn zombies into humans. A new chapter for our zombie detective, with a new hope thrown in? Not bad at all, I say.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Comic-booky and silly a lot of the time, and a little uneven to boot, but manages to be entertaining, while serving up lashings of poignance, melancholy and earnestness.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Sean
Sean
3 months ago

Zombie D for me was an absolute delight overall. And, yes I did enjoy the filler movie scenes as they were classic nods to some very entertaining/classic Chinese movies.

I enjoyed the very refreshing take where we have a Zombie that is scared of humans, but somehow managed to establish a relationship with a hand full of human friends.

The challenge for any zombie or creature of the night is their food source. Thankfully, Moo Young was very happy eating raw chicken as his food substitute.

Zombies have evolved a long way and we see so many depictions of them now where they are so much the same that it is hard to enjoy the many different shows and movies that come have out on the subject.

Zombie D is an exception as was Z Nation (a total send up of the whole zombie concept, where in my household the all time favourite episode is Zombies on Speed. You haven’t seen a zombie at full tilt until you have seen this episode 🤣). A great episode from my childhood regarding zombies, in the traditional sense, was The Night Stalker. The zombies here were old school and very scary. The only way you could stop them was to stitch cloves of garlic into their mouths when they were asleep! Still, I think overall the Koreans have done well with the genre re Kingdom 1 and 2 and Train to Busan (but not its sequel) 😊

Kay
Kay
3 months ago

Great review! It sounds like we almost the exact same experience with this one 😊 It was a very fun zombie crime drama. Took a bit to get going and was a little uneven, but the story was fun with endearing characters and a bit of mystery. Though I did enjoy the “filler” a fair bit more than you, hehe 😂 I’m a big fan of Hwang Bo Ra, so that may have helped too. Overall, it was quite an enjoyable drama, and I’m glad I took a chance and stepped out of my comfort zone for it too 🙂

Kay
Kay
3 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Extracurricular is one that is out of my comfort zone too, but I’ve definitely been considering it after all of the great reviews for it. I’ll have to see if I’m brave enough to give it a go sometime 😂

beez
3 months ago

@Elaine Phua – 😂😂😂😂😂 Thanks for the reminder/laugh!

Lady G.
Editor
3 months ago

Great review! So cool you came around to watching. I didn’t hop, skip and jump to watch immediately, but I was in a drama wasteland for a few years. :/

But…I usually can’t stay away from Choi Jin Hyuk. (There is still a recent drama or 2 I know I missed!) I have a fascination with the zombie genre, it terrified me as a child, but in the last 7 or so years, I have consumed far more of them than I should have. (pun intended.) When done right, with equal parts frights, intelligence, pathos, and humor, you can have an amazing film, and I have seen some from across the globe and even short films on Youtube with different creative concepts.

The Zombie Detective had all of that for me. I fell in love with poor Moo Young and his plight and cheered him on as he struggled to improve himself and succeeded fantastically. Hunky Zombie indeed!! I like your suggestion to wear a “Comic Book” lens; I totally agree. The 2 P.I.s across the way had to grow on me also, but I loved how they became great friends and helped him. I liked  Seon Ji’s turn from a slight bullying type to a caring, loyal partner and friend/errr… love interest. I enjoyed her character and accepted the over-the-top nature of all the characters in this ‘world.’

I actually went hysterical laughing during the movie fantasy sequences with the hopping vampires (I can’t help but chuckle whenever they pop up anywhere.)

ngobee
ngobee
3 months ago

@beez: I watched an episode of Home Alone about him. He has a small fluffy white pup and it really was heart warming how patiently and affectionately he treated her.

beez
3 months ago

@Elaine Phua – and for some reason his interaction with the kids while holding their pup for ransom, and resisting eating it, gave me the awwwww warm fuzzies 😁

Elaine Phua
Elaine Phua
3 months ago
Reply to  beez

Yes yes, those were some of my favourite bits! Pretending to be tough and calculative.

Minor spoiler
And extra hilarious as he did so to make some cash cos the kids only paid him like 50 cents to find the dog in the first place due to his poor negotiation skills hahahaha.

Elaine Phua
Elaine Phua
3 months ago

Glad you enjoyed this kfangurl! It really tickled my funny bones. Besides the zombie rehabilitation in first episode, I also really enjoyed

Spoiler
his journey in recovering his memory of who he was when he was alive, I found that story quite well done and touching.
Totally agree with you that some of the humour didn’t land well, but when it did, it was utterly hilarious! E.g.
Spoiler
When Seon Ji threw a motorcycle helmet at Moo Young and got him, somehow the combination of the silly action onscreen and Moo Young’s baffled voiceover narration just really got my funny bones!

Last edited 3 months ago by Elaine Phua
larius24
larius24
3 months ago

Ahh so you watched it now.
Once upon a time when I watched the show I actually liked it. Especially Choi jin Hyuks performance was just hilarious.
The supporting cast was just genius. I liked all of them.

What I didn’t like as much was ep. 11 and 12. For some reason it just felt off…
Also the female lead felt a bit off. I don’t know whether it was just the character in itself or her performance. She felt all over the place aggressive, rude then kind then intrusive then annoying then funny…. I don’t know what to do with her character.

ngobee
ngobee
3 months ago

I loved Choi Jin Hyuk in Tunnel. He can be very funny, and poignant, too. A very human, decent vibe. And of course his voice…
I thought his guy-linered, green eyes in Zombie Detective were genius.

beez
3 months ago

It’s ridiculous! And I loved it. 😆 I’m glad you liked it enough to give it a second chance.

Spoiler
Zombie learning to walk on the treadmill still tickles me.

Trent
3 months ago

I actually ended up watching this mostly because I liked Park Ju-hyun in Extracurricular (she was fine in this; the role was kind of over the top, but she threw herself into it and did what she could).

I agree this had a surprising amount of heart; I found it enjoyable in stretches but in the end the kind of broad, over the top, slapstick-y comedy vibe just started to wear on me. Fortunately it was 12 eps; 8 or 10 might have been even better…

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
3 months ago

This is Zombie Noir, my piano piece inspired by Zombie Detective:
https://soundcloud.com/snow_flower_piano/zombie-noir

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
3 months ago

Hi Fangurl –

I really love this drama. I remember that when it came out there a drama lull. I clicked on it and never looked back. It turned out to be a drama that I waited for every week.

As for Choi Jin Hyuk, well let’s say he is very easy on the eyes and that velvet voice is kind of special. I really love his singing as well.

I think you nailed it when you say that he does well with droll comedy. My favorite scene was the zombie dance. He is not a bad dancer either.

I have struggled with some of his earlier dramas. I hope he gets more roles like this. I really felt the character’s struggle to regain his humanity. I rooted for him and BB cream each week.

Another highlight for me was Ahn Se Ha – another fabulous singer – whom I thought did a great job.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
3 months ago

This show did not take itself too seriously, but still managed to offer moments of poignancy and heart. I also was not going to check it out, but I am glad I did.