It’s the end of the Century, at a corner of the city in a building riddled with crime … Everyone has turned into zombies. After Jenny’s boyfriend is killed in a zombie attack, she faces the challenge of surviving in the face of adversity. The originally kind and warm hearted chemistry teacher, Wu Ming is now the zombie leader – a cruel, vicious and selfish character. Violent activists match prisoners against zombies in a malicious killing game, the good side of humanity has seemingly all but vanished. Now that all order is lost, how will humans create a new century? A world of uncertainty awaits: The end? Hope? Or Death?
While the noughties zombie movie revival may have peaked and troughed with something of an anti-climax, some directors refuse to let the worn-out formula die. One such filmmaker coaxing the moribund subgenre to rise again is Joe Chen, who piles on nudity and splatter in Zombie Fight Club.
A crime-ridden tower block in an unnamed city is on the verge of apocalyptic meltdown. As a violent drug cartel seek ransom money at the expense of their defenceless hostage, elsewhere a group of horny twenty-somethings are hosting a substance-fuelled party and getting down to business. Unbeknownst to them, however, their latest batch of uppers contains a secret ingredient: one that turns its users into blood thirsty hoards of the walking dead.
Andy, played by Andy On, is part of a SWAT team sent in to take down the cartel. When his colleagues are killed off one by one by the ever-growing zombie population, he teams up with Jenny, played by Jessica Cambensy, a young woman who has just lost her boyfriend to one of the undead. Together they look to find a way out of the tower block fortress, only to find that life in the city has become a post-apocalyptic nightmare run by misogynistic, sadistic slave-drivers.
While some of horror cinema’s greatest achievements may have been made in the realm of the undead – one thinks of the Italian contributions in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and Romero’s original trilogy – it is safe to say that the average movie-goer’s appetite for the zombie film has been waning over the past few years. However, where Zombie Fight Club excels is in its unrelenting pursuit of violence and gore, not to mention its adherence to Romero’s formula: slow, pacing fiends pursuing their victims in an enclosed space.
Joe Chen has created what might best be described as a splatter movie, first and foremost, and certainly one with little regard for its audience’s attachment to central characters. Very early on it becomes clear that no one is safe, with characters introduced and quickly killed off as the zombie outbreak takes hold. As a result, it becomes difficult to ascertain which characters will live and which will die, making for an enthralling and unpredictable story. What’s more, the director has cleverly created tiny pockets of sub-plots and mini stories within various apartments in the tower block, as we leap in and out of characters’ lives and see their timelines cross paths, directly affecting each other’s fates for better or worse.
The story focusses on Andy and Jenny, who come together in an attempt to make it out of the bloodbath in one piece. On the way we meet sleazy, rapist cops, uncover the relationship between a drug kingpin and his girlfriend, see an old timer give his life to save the central characters and bear witness to all manner of killings and betrayals. In this respect, the film is consistent with most other zombie movies in one key aspect; it is often human beings who cause the greatest threat to each other, rather than the blood-thirsty undead pursuing them.
The latter section of the film focusses on life outside of the tower block, once society has well and truly crumbled at the hands of the apocalyptic outbreak. At this point Zombie Fight Club adopts a familiar, dystopian landscape in which the sadistic and powerful call the shots, trading slaves and supplies by gambling on staged fights between human prisoners and zombie fodder. This section, too, is where much of the film’s misogyny comes into play, as we are introduced to numerous incredibly beautiful women clad in skimpy black leather with sadomasochistic undertones. In true exploitative fashion, the merging of sex and violence becomes a focal point for Joe Chen’s vision.
While the film is unlikely to generate much more than a passing ripple through the consciousness of horror fans internationally, the focus on sex, nudity, violence and popcorn splatter in Zombie Fight Club is sure to please many audiences to no end and will certainly pick up a cult following as it does the rounds.
It may not be a masterpiece, and will certainly not be remembered for as long as any Romero or Fulci contribution to the subgenre, but for its sheer audacity and unapologetically chaotic visual aesthetic, Zombie Fight Club is a film that will stick in the memory for longer than most other films of its kind.
Words: Iain Todd