The kingdom of Joseon is in a state of great turmoil as the absolute monarchy is being influentially divided. The King has treacherous whispers being fed to him by head of the nobles, Minister Kim, and the eldest royal son, the Crown Prince, witnesses his father’s dominion being redirected against the common people despite his best efforts to persuade his father. When the Crown Prince’s insurrection plan for kingdom stabilizing is foiled, the Crown Prince commits public suicide as act of sacrifice to spare his cohorts and their family from capital punishment, but before his death, the Crown Prince sends word to his younger brother, Lee Chung, to return home from the Qing Dynasty and escort his sister and unborn child out of a country soon to be in the throes of chaos. In the midst of the struggle, a foreign ship cargoes new age weapons and the Captain has secret dealings with Minister Kim, but is raided by the Crown Prince’s rebellion The ship also holds another human eradicating payload, a plagued foreigner in the brig is transforming into a blood hungry monster with grayed out eyes and razor sharp teeth With one of the raiding members being bitten, the carnivorous outbreak spreads throughout the kingdom days before the pleasure seeking and arrogant Lee Chung returns home. Chung not only finds his people suffering from bloodthirsty monsters, but also from a turbulent hierarchy sought for destruction by a devilish and traitorous orchestrator who will do anything, like leave a plague go unchecked, to see the lineage die out.
From the same studio that delivered the critically successful, zombie apocalyptic nail biter, “Train to Buscan” comes Kim Sung-hoon’s martial arts horror-fantasy, “Rampant,” that’s a perfect accompaniment double feature film involving a familiar fast-spreading zombie-like outbreak with gripping, non-stop action based on the webcomic Kingdom of the Gods. “Rampant” is the filmmaker’s junior film from 2018, a film blended with truly epic magnitude and an ancient Korean civilization that’s penned by “Scary Hair” writer-director Shin-yeon Won and Hwang Jo Yoon to weave battling aortic stories that inherently funnel toward the dismantling of an established empire. While not serving as a straight genre film with savage moments of on the edge of your seat horror, the theme hones in on the separation of classes, peasants and blue-blooded or high ranking officials, and the reuniting them by compassion and strength. Inklings of fear, greed, and ignorance are stitched in the very hanbok and gat-laden fabrics of the story and serving as a precursor to the Netflix produced television series, Kingdom, scripted by Kim Eun-hee and directed by Seong-hun Kim, involving virtually an identical premise of a troubled monarchy being plagued by a horde of diabolical creatures.
Prince Lee Chung is a stimulating character to say the least; the prince’s introduction isn’t favorable to royal morals as a pleasure seeking, womanizer who gets his kicks by doing what he wants, when he wants. Yet, Chung arches so prominently that the transformation goes seamless, and covertly, to persuades audiences to rally behind Chung in the least-to-most extreme circumstances. Hyun Bin’s confidence in the prince ceases to amaze. From his impeccable arrogance to selfless protection, Bin sustains high level performance no matter the situation while bearing a giant blade, holstered on his lower back. Chung has the skill of a warrior, but the tact of a barfly at first and comes to be a complete better version of himself at the dire end that also completes Bin’s full range of the role. Chung is pitted against Minister Kim, the head of all the court’s ministers, and Kim plots to dethrone the Joseon kingdom in chaos by any means. Jang Dong-Gun is Korean’s version of Mads Mikkelsen. Jang envelops a deepening mystery that’s hard to deescalate and emits a presence on screen just by the way he positions himself in an ominous, if not anime swordsman, manner. Minister Kim is a staggering and formidable nemesis, more overall suited to be the main villain amongst an ever-growing sea of plague-spewing creatures. The remaining lot of characters feel auxiliary around the protagonist Chung and antagonist Kim and these roles are supported by Kim Eui-sung (“Train to Buscan”), Jo Woo-jin, Jo Dal-hwan, Jung Yoo-An, Lee Sun-Bin, and Seo Ji-hye.
You might have noticed that the term creatures were used to describe the menace that plagues Joseon. Characters often reference the plague transformed attackers as demons and, to be honest, these grayed eyed, pointy teeth demons could pass as extras in Lamberto Bava’s “Demons” or Kevin Tenney’s “Night of the Demons,” but the U.S. marketing of the Well Go USA Entertainment release promises zombies and zombie action, even going as far as splaying on the front and back cover that the same studio produced “Train to Buscan.” To be fair, a plague did start the mayhem, transmission of the disease was by bite, and the course ran the kingdom very, well, rampant like a traditional, George A. Romero style, outbreak. Either way, to kill a demon and/or zombie, an assortment of kill method was acceptable such as: beheadings, severing the heart, and, to thoroughly ensure death, kill with fire. Demons. Zombies. Audiences won’t be too hard up on how to label the hungry hordes as “Rampant” slices, dices, and crucifies the the living hell out of the living dead.
Well Go USA Entertainment presents the VAST Entertainment and Leeyang Film, “Rampant,” onto a dual format, DVD and Blu-ray combo, release. The 129 minute runtime Blu-ray is exhibited in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. There’s money behind this release as visual effects are one of the superior cases over the lot of 2018 releases with pinpoint detail from the mass of infected, the textures and coloring of fire, and the Joseon Kingdom structures and detail attire. The attention is really in the details with not only historical authenticity, but also realism. Human coloring looks rather natural and the no issues with compression either. The Korean DTS-HD Master Audio track suits the action heavy film with LFE combustions and explosions, unlimited range and depth amongst a vast Kingdom battleground, and dialogue that right up front. The DVD has a Dolby Digital audio track. Well constructed and syned English subtitles are available on both formats. Inyoung Park’s ho-hum score is the Achilles’ heal of brittleness that downplays the feverish action and reducing the entire sequence as mediocre that doesn’t aspire greatness to come or to be beheld. The same can be said about the bonus material too with a making of featurette that’s more of “Rampant’s” Stateside promo reel, Behind the Scenes featurette that also feels like a marketing campaign ad focusing on character introductions, and Well GO USA Entertainment trailers. In short, no substance in the bonus features. With sound swordplay choreography, a swarm of multiplying reanimated corpses, and an engrossing narrative with a lore foundation, “Rampant” is the next Korean mega hit in the fantasy-horror catalogue.
After serving an eviction notice to a strange old woman, with a grisly rumor in her past, for her realtor mogul father, Rose becomes drugged and bound against her will by the old woman who injects Rose with something. When Rose awakes, she finds her self caught in a repetitive cycle of murder, betrayal, and mystery brought upon by a spell conjured upon Rose by the old enchantress woman. The key to breaking the spell is the enchantress’s family home and it’s up to Rose to whether destroying the home or not will save her father who also falls victim to the old woman’s bewitching power.
“Rows” is the fantasy-horror brainchild of writer-director David Warfield and stars “Feast” actress Hannah Schick along side “House with 100 Eyes’s” Lauren Lakis, Kenneth Hughes, Joe Basile, and Nancy Murray as the enchantress or the witch, which I like to title the character. The overall small casts’ performance achieves the toned-down, nearly expressionless portrayal of characters stuck in the confines of a hex; the “something-doesn’t-feel-right” notion is hyped up without the idea constantly up in your face and is more downplayed to let the viewer interpret Rose’s beyond twisted “Alice in Wonderland” experience. Instead of a world full of giant smoking caterpillars and tea drinking mad hatters, Warfield writes about the relatively unknown horrors of corn fields, an endless maze with rows and rows of high stalks that traps Rose and Greta.
But the corn rows go to the back burner when the nature of the house comes to the forefront. The house’s claim to be the smoking gun to all of Rose’s obstacles is undervalued by the poor written construction of the southern belle style home in the script. The house doesn’t loom, isn’t very menacing, and just can’t seem to ever get on it’s feet to become a character wroth being frightened over. Warfield should have stuck with the corn rows which creates a surface murkiness, goes beyond our heroine’s ability to see or hear, shreds any hope for escape, and looks more ominous during the night; the house was always kept in the daytime. However, the old witch’s power stems from the house and for whatever reason, aside from the extended family history under their thumb, there is this unsatisfied, unknown conclusion for the viewer and the finale is up for personal interpretation.
In making the ending open, Warfield’s “Rows” eases onto the border of experimental. Act one and two weren’t exactly straight forward either, but the understanding was clear and present enough. Once the transition, or the epiphany if you will, into the third act begins, a struggle to grasp Rose’s direction and, in the end, destination becomes more difficult. I can only go on my own interpretation of Rose’s journey and, much like that of the fantasy-ridden “Labyrinth” starring David Bowie, I felt like actress Hannah Schick was the Jennifer Connelly character in the sense that Rose has to grow up, leave the comforts of home, and be responsible and this whole event with the enchantress and the spell is an internal mental battle that ultimately is decided by a choice. In Hannah’s case, her inner, warped conflict is to fight her father’s will or embrace it.
Indie Rights Films and MVDVisual distributes the StorySolver Film Lab production to DVD in a stunning 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Details look fantastic from the farm landscapes to the skin tones with no sign of touch up enhancements such as cropping, sharpening, or smoothing. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track clearly balanced and diversifies all sub-tracks, especially the ambient sounds of the rural atmosphere to set an looming setting. There are no subtitle or settings options, nor do extras exist. Only “play” or “chapters” line the menu title. “Rows” has a sizable underlining gloom about it, setting a rightfully impassive mood through the spell world Rose is thrusted into combating.