All of Us Are Dead: Episode 1 (First Impressions)
Ruthless and relentlessly fast-paced, Netflix’s latest K-drama offering serves up a grisly apocalyptic outbreak with a side of teenage troubles. It won’t be long before the zombies overrun the school, but even amongst the humans, it’s clear that there are already monsters in their midst. That then raises the question — where does humanity end, and monstrosity begin?
EPISODE 1 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The drama opens with a brutal bullying scene, which is the first peek we get at a zombie. The tormented victim turns out to be the son of the science teacher LEE BYUNG-CHAN (Kim Byung-chul), who winds up bludgeoning his zombified son with a Bible. It’s certainly a jarring opener, and I wonder if it was just for shock value or if the show will expand on this religious motif. I certainly hope it’s the latter; I think it would be interesting to explore the fine line between faith and despair, salvation and destruction, and belief and obsession.
Our outbreak’s patient zero is student KIM HYUN-JOO (Jo Yi-seo), whose curiosity gets her bitten by a rabid white mouse in Byung-chan’s science laboratory. Upon finding out, Byung-chan ties her up in the laboratory’s storage room and subdues her with a sedative shot, though of course she ends up turning feral and escaping.
But first, an introduction to our ensemble cast! LEE CHUNG-SAN (Yoon Chan-young) is immediately endearing in his embarrassment over the name of his mother’s fried chicken joint (which she insists she named him after, not the other way around), and he’s joined by his chatty buddy HAN KYUNG-SOO (Han Sung-min). They’re soon joined by NAM ON-JO (Park Ji-hoo) and her best friend YOON YI-SAK (Kim Joo-ah), and all four friends trade gossip and lighthearted jabs over a meal of too-salty fried chicken.
Chung-san and On-jo have such a fun dynamic, and they light up the screen with their banter. Since they live right next to each other, they’re best buddies, heading to school together and playing rock-paper-scissors to decide who has to be the other’s gopher for the day. (On-jo doesn’t hesitate to dump her bag on him, ha.) They’ve got each other’s backs, even if they try to cover it up with gruff bluster (from Chung-san) and well-aimed kicks (from On-jo).
On-jo is a likable and spunky heroine, and I love how relatable she is. She’s outspoken around her friends, but in front of Soo-hyuk (Park Solomon) she’s shyly preening, heh. She has an adorable puppy crush on Soo-hyuk, and I can see why — the guy oozes charm in spades! There’s a cute moment where she confesses to him by giving him her nametag, except it’s interrupted by Chung-san barging into the conversation to fuss over On-jo’s injured arm. His concern is written all over his face, aww.
I don’t usually like love triangles, but these characters are all so innocently sincere in their affections that I don’t think I’ll mind it all that much. Plus, Soo-hyuk seems to have a little crush on the silent and studious class president CHOI NAM-RA (Jo Yi-hyun)! His bashful smile and awkward failed confession were so cute.
As for the other students that were introduced in this episode, we only get a glimpse of them, but I’m already interested to find out more. LEE NA-YEON (Lee Yumi) displays an unexplained animosity towards Kyung-soo, and I’m curious to find out the reason why. Bespectacled student OH JOON-YOUNG (Ahn Seung-kyun) only has less than a minute of screentime, but there’s something about the look in his eyes that makes me wonder if there’s a secret he’s hiding.
The high school setting isn’t used merely as a location, since the show also takes the time to spotlight the turbulent troubles of students at that age. That ranges from the frenzied rush to get to school on time, to the graver issue of school bullying. The main bully, YOON GWI-NAM (Yoo In-soo), is nauseatingly repulsive in the extent of his torment. He’s downright vicious, and the bullying scenes were honestly difficult to watch. I felt sick to my stomach when he and his cronies forced MIN EUN-JI (Oh Hye-soo) to strip by tearing her clothes off her, and then strong-armed KIM CHUL-SOO (Ahn Ji-ho) into taking photos of her.
The utter humiliation and the threat of having those photos circulated drives Eun-ji to the school’s rooftop, and it’s so chilling that what stops her from jumping isn’t the tearful pleading of Chul-soo, but the shattering of glass from the floors below as students are shoved through the windows and ravaged by zombies.
That launches the zombie outbreak into full swing, and with hordes of students running around in mass panic, the adults can’t turn a blind eye. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the school principal selfishly prioritizes the school’s reputation over the students’ wellbeing. Our protagonists’ homeroom teacher (Lee Sang-hee) is the only one who cares, but her concerns are overridden by the hierarchy of authority.
Luckily, she’d called the police earlier when she sent Hyun-joo to the hospital, effectively foiling the principal’s plan of a cover-up. Officer SONG JAE-IL (Lee Kyu-hyung, yay!) clearly has a history with Byung-chan, and there’s a charged tension between them that I’m itching for the drama to explore. I wonder what happened between them in the past, and if it explains why Byung-chan became the person he is now. Perhaps that might have been what set him on his downward spiral, and his son’s zombification was merely the catalyst that spurred his descent into instability.
Honestly, this drama doesn’t give us anything new in terms of the school genre or the zombie genre, but it’s filmed captivatingly enough that I’m drawn into its world. It might just be my bias for practically half the cast that’s been introduced so far, HAHA, but I find the characters compelling and I’m invested in the story for their sakes.
Most of the characters seem to fall into high school archetypes, though, so I wonder if I’d like them as much if I hadn’t previously seen and loved the actors in other dramas. Plus, the mini 365: Repeat The Year and Nobody Knows reunions had me so stoked! Although, I don’t know if it’s a compliment that I’m primarily watching for the actors and not for the story itself…
I guess so far I’m pretty lukewarm about this show? The first episode was a decently fun watch, but it didn’t particularly stand out. Perhaps I was hoping for a show that would bring something new and fresh to the zombie genre, but this episode played out exactly the way I expected it would.
That’s not to say that it was boring, though, because the execution was done well, so if the show keeps this up I think it could be a gripping tale. I do hope it subverts some expectations further down the line, since that would give it some dimension and ramp up the tension. It’s already demonstrated humans’ capacity for monstrosity before the zombies were even introduced to the school, so now that we have actual monsters in the mix, I’m looking forward to a nuanced examination of humanity, as well as just how far people can descend into depravity when pushed to the brink.
Editor’s note: Coverage will continue with a second comprehensive review, so please refrain from discussing any plot points beyond Episode 1 in this post, or any tidbits from the original webtoon.