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by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [July 27, 2012]




[]  The arrival of yet another flesh-eating zombie film always begs the question: How does this one differ from the previous 783 independently made zombie films of the past year?

In the case of Fear Eats the Seoul, the obvious difference is that it was shot in South Korea. (In the city of Seoul -- duh! -- which is South Korea's capital.) A less obvious difference is the film's indie sensibility. I don't mean indie as in "indie horror." I mean "indie film," as in the kind of stuff found on the Sundance Channel and Independent Film Channel. The sort of films that starred Parker Posey and Adrienne Shelly in the 1990s. Films about socially relevant issues, like immigration.

Films like Lost in Translation.

For while Fear Eats the Seoul is mostly the "same old, same old" about of a band of survivors struggling in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland, its best scenes evoke Sofia Coppola's Oscar-winning film of two mismatched Americans who inadvertently meet in Japan and spend a few days sight-seeing and sharing insights. Lost in Translation's conceit is that these two people wouldn't have socialized back in the U.S., but, feeling isolated amid Japan's foreignness, their common language and nationality emotionally connects them as their ships pass in the night.

"I am ashamed to admit that I have never been able to finish that movie," says Fear writer/director Nick Calder. "There aren't many takes on Eastern and Western influences meeting, a perspective that is not as touched upon as it should be. Being half-Korean put me in a position of confusion. I was unsure where I stood between my Korean and foreign friends.

"That's where I began to insert the flashbacks as vignette experiences that I I witnessed, either first-hand or through others, while being in Korea. I love the metaphor potential of the zombie subgenre to imply the struggle of conforming to an opposing and antagonistic force. It's something I've spent my entire life feeling."



"I moved to South Korea in the summer of 2008," says Calder. "It was an opportunity to grow as a person and get in touch with my Korean heritage. I had spent so much energy graduating from [film] school. And after two years of being an English teacher and not doing much of anything film-related, I felt like I was a dreamer who gave up his dream because life got in the way. It was time to make a film.

"The film became an opportunity for me to exorcise those inner demons about failure, by writing a film about a bunch of failures who run away from themselves and escape to Korea. The demons in the film became the metaphor for failing."

Calder says demons, not zombies. So do his characters. Technically, Fear Eats the Seoul is about flesh-eating demons. Yet they look and act like zombies (the modern breed that run, rather than shamble). For that matter, they also look and act like the vampires in Nightmare City or 30 Days of Night. Decades ago, it was easy to spot a zombie, from a vampire, from a demon. These days you can't tell. They all run. They all snarl and growl with baritone force. Some seek flesh, some blood, but their attack methods are alike. And in all cases, they turn you into one of them.



"Due to budgetary constraints, they became more zombie-like than I originally intended," Calder says of his demons. "[But] there is a piece of the original person inside each demon, unlike zombies who die and become flesh-hungry and unbiased. They [the demons] have vendettas and memories and are now tortured in a state of inevitable decomposition. Rufus sees himself in the mirror and what he's become. They're more aware and animalistic [than are traditional zombies]."

Yet Fear Eats the Seoul is not the first horror film featuring self-aware zombies. The zombies in Return of the Living Dead (1985) were eloquent enough to state their requests for "brain." And the revenant corpses in Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (considered by some to be zombies) were carrying out vendettas as far back as 1972.

The sound in Fear Eats the Seoul -- including the dialog -- was entirely dubbed in post-production. No sound was recorded on location. Dubbing often cheapens a film, yet in Fear, it yields a curious aesthetic effect.

Because dubbed sound is unconnected to a film's visuals, we feel disconnected and emotionally distanced from events onscreen-- twice over. We feel (like the characters) unconnected to Korea, like foreigners "lost in translation." We also feel disconnected from normal reality, and thus have an easier time of suspending disbelief for the film's unreal/surreal demonic incidents.



Although the dubbing works aesthetically, Calder's reasons were purely pragmatic. "It is dubbed. All one hundred percent of it. The field sound we recorded was not good enough, which was part of the learning process. We didn't have the right equipment. We ended up having to create all the sound, ADR, and ambience from scratch. I learned everything the hard way making the film."

Fear's dubbing includes voiceover narration, which strengthens its indie film sensibility. Horror films aren't big on voiceovers. The technique is more common to noir and indie films. Fear also uses title cards to introduce its narrative segments, another indie film device. (And favored by TV's Frasier.)

"I enjoy storytelling mechanisms," Calder explains. "I tend to write the screenplay in 12 parts, and I give each part a chapter title, which for me is a great way to keep the thematic undertone or main plot points in check.

"This film was a giant experiment. I was only a screenwriter up until a few months before directing Fear. I had no idea what I was doing. So I gave myself access to many tools in the beginning, so I could find my voice as a director. The voiceover was something I added once the film was finished, to soften Nadia's character, and to bring some of the internal elements of the story to the surface."

Like many horror films, Fear Eats the Seoul has its ... plot holes? Oddities? For instance, it seems that only six people are still alive in Seoul. Yet the electrical grid still works. So too cell phones. And the city's water works. Faucets and fountains still flow. Even so, the characters are hard-pressed to find a working car. They search for the one car to match their one set of keys. Why? Surely many of the cars sitting about still have the keys in them?



And the demons' roar is one that no set of human vocal cords could possibly emit. Does the infection not only turn one into the walking (yet self-aware) dead, but also transform your vocal cords? Well, people's fingers do grow after becoming a demon, so, okay...

But the question that will haunt many viewers is: Do people really eat dogs in Korea?

"Hah! They do, in fact, consume dog meat soup," Calder confirms. "I have not tried it. I like dogs with fur and chew toys. But it is a delicacy in Korea. Not eaten by many Koreans, though, which is the misconception. But I have many friends who have tried it. They say it's a lot like beef. Tender."

Funny. I knew an American who claimed to have eaten dog meat while in Korea. He said it tasted like chicken.

Although I see Lost in Translation, Calder cites the 28 Days series, Demon Knight, and Demons 2, as influencing his film's visual style. "Eternal Sunshine was an influence where Nadia is flashing back in time to find the better part of herself that she lost when the demon epidemic took over."

Calder graduated from New York's School of Visual Arts, with an emphasis on screenwriting. He says that his production budget was 4,500 U.S. dollars. "I funded the film out of my pocket. My producer, Whitney Thompson, also helped fund the project out of her pocket."

Fear Eats the Seoul is currently making the festival circuit. It has screened in Seoul, New York, and Chicago. Details may be found on Nick Calder's website.


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