Zombie Detective (좀비탐정) may just be the happiest, most heartfelt zombie television series ever! At least, that’s my immediate reaction after watching this 2020 KBS series. Choi Jin Hyuk effortlessly leads a stellar ensemble cast as the titular Zombie Detective. Mixing drama, comedy, fantasy and mystery, it all comes together into what is unexpectedly a hilarious and emotional adventure.
After waking up in a dump site, our title character discovers he has turned into a zombie. With no memories of his past as part of the living, he spends a year in a rural town training himself to walk and talk like a normal human. Assuming the identity of detective Kim Moo Young, he heads to the big city where he meets Gong Seon Ji (Park Ju Hyun), a writer on an investigative current affairs program. Together they begin to solve crimes while searching for the truth behind his past and how he came to be a zombie.
Zombie Detective isn’t your usual zombie fare. Part of the fun of the series is seeing Moo Young trying to adapt to his unique situation and blend in with the living. The fish out of water journey for him features many hilarious moments. At times it even becomes a bit of slice of life. The interactions between the ensemble cast of characters lend to the lighthearted fun.
That’s not to say there aren’t serious turns in the story. The cases they work on involve legitimately shocking crimes. And one in particular leads to a pitch perfect, heartbreaking moment that is so beautifully executed.
And that’s what Zombie Detective does so well. Balancing the comedy and sincere emotional drama is not an easy task for any series. But they do it so well here. The charming and charismatic cast help keep you engaged for the entire ride. One moment they have you laughing out loud, the next you find tears streaming down your face overwhelmed with emotion.
Zombie Detective may feature some hilarious spoofs of both zombie films/series and other Korean drama tropes. But in the middle of all that is an actual deep look at what it means to be human.
The series poses that question as Moo Young searches for his past and true identity while contemplating his current situation and wondering if he can ever become human again. That’s also while they encounter living humans who may not be as humane as you’d hope for them to be.
Family and friendships are a central theme to the series as well. And that theme is excellently illustrated especially as Moo Young interacts and grows closer with Seon Ji and the rest of the cast of characters in the neighborhood. Relatable, grounded moments are focused on the characters and all the emotions that come from those stories.
And it’s in those “human” moments that the series and its cast, especially, shines.
Choi Jin Hyuk is absolutely charming as Moo Young. Perhaps the most lovable zombie you’ll ever meet. He immediately endears our title character right from the moment he first wakes up. From there, Choi Jin Hyuk’s shifts from comedy to drama to familiar zombie action are effortless. Whether it’s kicking ass or befriending the neighborhood children, figuring out how to put on BB cream to cover his zombified skin or confronting a criminal; Choi Jin Hyuk really delivers. It’s hard to see anyone else in this role.
After her debut in the excellent A Piece of Your Mind and her breakout turn in Netflix’s Extracurricular, Park Ju Hyun continues her excellent 2020 run here. She is able to show off her versatility as a character the complete opposite of her first two, heavily dramatic roles. Bright and energetic, Seon Ji is the perfect sidekick to Moo Young. And she and Choi Jin Hyuk play off each other well in an almost buddy cop comedy dynamic.
They lead the wonderful ensemble cast which includes hilarious scene stealing turns from Tae Hang Ho and Lee Joong Ok as members of a rival detective agency.
One thing the series could’ve done differently was perhaps tackling more cases of the week. Though at 12 episodes, there certainly wasn’t that much time to do so. The ending, however, definitely leaves open the possibility for future seasons. While its ratings weren’t the strongest, there is much potential in following our zombie detective solving more cases and fighting more crime.
Zombie Detective may not be what you expect when you first come into it. And that’s the biggest joy once you do leap in. The series is simply a fun ride; a great balance of comedy and drama with ample amount of action. But perhaps the series’ most appealing aspect is its well-written characters. Characters that you can connect with. And in turn, allow you to fully engage with in the crazy, yet emotional adventure.
Hilarious and heartfelt, Zombie Detective is truly a wonderfully enjoyable gem of a series.