S'pore's First Zombie Flick 'Zombiepura' Draws Mixed Pleasures

Can you trust Alaric Tay to save us from a zombie apocalypse? Siao liao!


Zombiepura (PG13)
Starring Alaric Tay, Benjamin Heng, Joey Pink Lai

Directed by Jacen Tan

Oh lovely, do we need another military-themed horror so soon after the fiasco that was 23:59: The Haunting Hour? Fret not, at least this one has some amusing moments. The intentional kind.  

This debut from homegrown short filmmaker Jacen Tan is hailed as Singapore’s first zombie movie. Channelling Ah Boys to Men and The Walking Dead, Zombiepura sees slacker reservist Alaric Tay staving off a skin-eater attack in a top secret military base. 

The movie kicks off predictably with Tan drawing humour from shopworn army tropes that mock uniform careerists and herd mentality, before chaos descends. 

If you’ve seen one zombie movie, you’ve seen them all. What was it that Martin Scorsese once said about zombies? “What are you going to do with them? Just keep chopping them up, shooting at them, shooting at them.” 

Here, the pandemonium delivered is respectable, if a little by the book; folks who like their z-violence gory and disgusting will be let down. (The chase sequence in a Standard Obstacle Course is plain silly, though.) 

Sometimes, the action is more perspiration than inspiration, while pacing is an issue. At 83 minutes (shorter if you omit the end-credits), it still feels a tad sluggish. By the way, pay close attention to the national anthem in the movie: It sounds nothing like the national anthem we all know. What’s up with that?  (**1/2)

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Q&A: Jacen Tan

The Zombiepura director tells us via e-mail about creating the quintessential Singaporean walker.​​​​​​​

Jacen Tan on the set of 'Zombiepura'. 

8 DAYS: Your background is in making short films. What lessons did you take away from making your first feature?

I'm grateful to have a chance to make a feature film, being on set is the most fun time of my life. My biggest lesson is that I now have the skills to survive an actual zombie apocalypse!

Sunny Pang is behind the zombie action choreography. How did he get involved?

Sunny was recommended by fellow filmmakers. Sunny is well-known overseas among action fans, having been in international movies with The Raid star Iko Uwais. Sunny came in as a stunt director and brought his stunt team, Ronin Action Group, to do the stunts and zombie moves. His guys then 'spread the virus': teaching the zombie movements to the rest of the zombie extras. If you ask me, the real stars of the movie are the stuntmen and zombies!

There are two kind of zombies: runners and walkers. How did you decide which kind is best for Zombiepura?

We wanted to create uniquely Singaporean zombies. The fast zombies make you kan cheong but the slow zombies can create comedy. I believe ours is a hybrid. The audience will find certain familiar things with the way our zombies behave.

The movie is 83 minutes long. I thought it’s a bit short. What’s left on the cutting room floor? Is there a director’s cut lurking somewhere?

We wanted a movie that is ‘All Killer, No Filler’! Every minute of the footage was precious, due to our resources. There are small bits that were cut out but every decision was made to tell the story the best way. Director's cut… hmm now you are giving me some ideas...

Zombiepura sets out to be funny and scary. Was it a struggle to get the tone right?

I wanted the audience to be scared, but enjoy themselves at the same time! For me it was just very fun to craft the twists and turns, and the balance between horror and comedy.

The movie is rated PG13. There isn’t much gore. Is that by design?

We didn't design the movie to have a specific rating, but instead try to balance the elements of action, horror and comedy to best tell the story.

Taking cover: Alaric Tay, Joey Pink Lai and Benjamin Heng are planning an exit strategy. This is one of the first scenes Tan shot. "It was at the SOC ground where [Alaric, Joey and Benjamin's characters] are proning on the grass, looking for their weapon. The first day was very xiong; we were doing the chase scenes there as well." 

What are your favourite and least favourite scenes?

I can tell you which was my most memorable: Turning up on set on the first day at 6am and seeing extras putting on zombie makeup. That's my favourite memory after spending seven years developing this movie.

Which camp was the movie filmed at?

We combined a few locations and dressed them up to look like an army camp. The art department did a fantastic job. When the taxi driver drove us to set one morning, he thought he was in a real camp!

Did the SAF help out with the production?

They enlisted me for National Service, and that gave me the experience to write this film!

The national anthem plays a key part in the movie, but it isn’t really the national anthem. Care to explain?

It sounds like the anthem to me!

Do you have plans for a sequel? 

Yes, there's some ideas floating around.

What’s in your zombie apocalypse go-bag?

Mobile phone, combat rations, and… my wife. 

Photos: MM2

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