The opening scenes of "Rampant" rather effectively set the mood- a late night raid on a Dutch merchant ship in Korean waters leaves one of the pirates badly spooked after he gets mauled by a crazy person. Then we see that in addition to carrying a crazy person, the Dutch ship was also carrying a lot of guns. All of this is relevant to the machinations of minister Ja-joon (played by Jang Dong-gun), but when Prince Cheong (played by Hyun Bin) gets back from a long sojourn in China, all he sees is an empty wrecked town and no royal guard to meet him.
At this point the continuity gets a little confused. I was under the impression for awhile that Ja-joon's evil power usupring scheme was the before part of the story, and the wasteland Prince Cheong runs into was the aftermath of that scheme going horribly wrong. But then it turns out that the royal palace is still standing, and apparently flesh-eating monsters have just been running around destroying villages at night and King Ijo (played by Kim Eui-sung) doesn't even know what's going on? Huh?
That last bit actually makes decent thematic sense in regards to Ja-joon's hubris. The guy had an overly complicated plan that was intended to achieve a simple goal in a dramatic way to freak out visiting Chinese dignitaries. The problem was, Ja-joon completely failed to appreciate just how badly the plan could fall apart, and has unreasonable confidence in his ability to solve every possible contingency right up until the moment he gets taken out of the game like a total chump.
Prince Cheong's character arc is a lot more inconsistent. He starts out as the reluctant playboy hero, for the entirely sensible reason that crazy stuff is going on at the Joseon court and he'd rather stay out of the way. "Rampant" almost has a good idea going, with Ja-joon measuring his power in death while Prince Cheong measures it in life, but the second half of that idea isn't developed at all and very awkwardly shows up only after the end of the final confrontation.
Putting aside these narrative issues, "Rampant" also suffers from misplaced dramatic emphasis. Several characters get extended epic death scenes when they're sidekicks at best and unnamed extras at worst. I don't know why director Kim Seong-hoon-III thought this was appropriate tonally for a movie that sells itself on the power of gory survivalist battles against undead hordes.
The action scenes are good, I guess. But after the first big one, where a gang of cutthroats is waylaid by a surprise attack, and we see that good group planning easily trumps individual hypercompetence when dealing with mindless demons...further action scenes focus on individual hypercompetence rather than logically exploiting known rules about how the night terrors work. While "Rampant" is all right with genre beats cases like this especially spotlight how the movie easily lapses into extended stretches of generic boringness when the core concept of Joseon zombies is actually pretty distinctive.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Rampant""
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