Netflix’s South Korean series, “All of Us Are Dead,” is a compilation of all the zombie apocalypse films that we have already experienced. During the initial episodes, it does feel like it will touch the bar set by the finest films of the genre, something like World War Z (2013) or a Train to Busan (2016). But in the end “All of Us Are Dead,” doesn’t get close to it.
The only unique theme that “All of Us Are Dead” brings to the screen is its central conflict that deals with bullies and inferiority complexes. While in a generic zombie apocalypse film (or series), mostly pharmaceutical companies develop viruses to create super soldiers to fight wars. In this Korean series, a scientist, Lee Byeong-chan, creates a virus, the Jonas Virus (named after German philosopher Hans Jonas), to suppress the fears of his timid son. His son is bullied at school and tries to commit suicide instead of fighting back. However the concern of a parent magnifies so much so that it leads to a zombie outbreak that infects Hyosan High School, and soon the entire town suffers from its aftermath.
The series hooks the viewer’s interest with the hope that there is a possibility of an antidote that will save the population and control the pandemic. But is there really any cure for the zombie apocalypse? Or is it all about shooting and nuking? Let’s find out.
‘All of Us Are Dead’ Plot Summary
The screen opens with a flashback sequence when Lee Jin-su, son of Byeong-chan, a science teacher, is bullied by his fellow students on the terrace of a vacant building at night. When a bully named Yoon Gwi-nam attacks Jin-su, a virus inside Jin-su’s body reacts with his nervous system and turns him into a zombie. Jin-su develops super strength and fights back when suddenly Gwi-nam pushes him off the terrace.
Byeong-chan visits his son in the hospital and witnesses the monster he has created through his experiment. To control the outbreak and redeem his sins, Byeong-chan attacks his son with a bible and wraps him in a suitcase to make the body disappear. However, Jin-su doesn’t die, and thus, Byeong-chan takes him home and chains him in his room.
A few days later, a student, Hyeon-ju, at Hyosan High School, sleeps during the class and wakes up in the evening only to find herself all alone in the science lab. She hears a sound coming from a covered cage, and as she approaches, the fierce hamster bites her finger. The creature is evidently carrying a zombie virus, and as soon as it infects Hyeon-ju, Byeong-chan arrives there and locks up Hyeon-ju.
The series quickly jumps to its central characters: student Lee Cheong-san, her neighbor Nam On-jo, and their friends, who face the zombie outbreak in their school spread by Hyeon-ju. She escapes and bites the infirmary doctor, who later infects all the other students. Now, Byeong-chan is the only person who can possibly contain the spread of the virus, but he is arrested by a police officer, Jae-ik, and is taken to the station. Will Byeong-chan reveal the solution, or will he let everyone die in order to take revenge from his son’s bullies?
Major Spoilers Ahead
Why Did Byeong-chan Create The Jonas Virus?
Bullies at school constantly attacked Lee Jin-su, but he tried to commit suicide instead of fighting back. Concerned for his son’s life, Byeong-chan complained to the management about the bullies, but the principal gave more importance to his school’s reputation and evaluation and spared the bullies with a lenient warning. He even convinced Byeong-chan not to report the matter to the police. However, the attacks continued, and Jin-su just wanted to disappear or die. Byeong-chan was a helpless father who couldn’t change the system and thus decided to change his son instead.
Byeong-chan was a pioneer in cell biology and studied the changes in hormones. In one of his videos, he explains that predators often attack the prey, but once in a while, the prey loses its sense of fear and attacks the predator. When this happens, the creature’s testosterone level is boosted. He extracted the same hormone from a hamster and genetically modified it to turn their fear into rage. Byeong-chan believed that this genetically modified virus would help Jin-su conquer his fear. However, it turned him into a monster who bit his own mother and turned her into a zombie too.
Byeong-chan tried different drugs to contain the spread of the virus, but when he failed to stop it, he chained his son and wife in the house. Jin-su and his mother were found by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) at the end of ‘All of Us Are Dead,’ who took them to a secure facility to experiment on them, probably with the intention of creating an army of super-soldiers or maybe a vaccine. Byeong-chan, on the other hand, was bitten by a group of zombies who attacked the police station and probably would have died in the explosion.
What Was Jonas Virus?
Byeong-chan named his creation after the German philosopher, Hans Jonas, who discussed the possibilities of life-related technologies and human survival instincts. Similar to his beliefs, the essence of the Jonas virus is its will to live. As soon as it enters the hosts’ body, it starts attacking the weak cells to consume them.
The virus’s will to survive is stronger than the host’s body, and thus it starts consuming the body, creating a severe feeling of hunger that surpasses the hosts’ intelligence. The virus creates a constant demand for food and a sense of fear, which is probably why zombies attack the predators around them to eat, bite, or consume them. However, once the predator is infected with the virus and their body temperature goes below normal, the zombies don’t feel the danger anymore and move on towards their next warm-blooded target.
Observing the state of Byeong-chan’s wife and son, it can be speculated that a prolonged state of starvation can lead to the death of hosts’ bodies, which will probably kill the cells of the virus as well.
Why didn’t Choi Nam-ra, Min Eun-ji, and Yoon Gwi-nam, turn into Zombies?
In one of his recorded footages, Byeong-chan explains a rare phenomenon where a few white blood cells in the hosts’ bodies remained even after the Jonas Virus took over. These were the mutated white blood cells that fused with the Jonas virus in order to adapt to the new ecosystem created by it. The virus hid inside the RNA of the cells and remained dormant until the host’s body was subjected to any kind of attack or fear that would activate its will to survive. In “All of Us Are Dead,” these hosts were kind of hybrid zombies (or half-bies, as named by Yang Dae-su).
Choi Nam-ra, Min Eun-ji, and Yoon Gwi-nam were all half-zombies who obtained super-strength, heightened hearing, and healing abilities from the Jonas Virus. However, they only turned into monsters when the virus manifested itself during an attack by a predator. Byeong-chan probably wanted to give similar powers to his son, but his son’s biological structure wasn’t strong enough to adapt to the virus, and he thus lost control of his body.
Nevertheless, Gwi-nam probably died in the explosion, and Eun-ji was killed by the army. In Nam-ra’s case, even though she had the Jonas Virus running in her bloodstream, she had complete control over her conscience. She only preyed on dead people or zombies to satisfy her hunger, thus surviving until the end of the series. She is an epitome of a super-soldier, and it is probably the storyline of this new breed of zombies that will be explored in Season 2 of “All of Us Are Dead.”
Who All Survived In the End?
After the zombie outbreak in Hyosan city, martial law was imposed within its borders. Under the command of Seon-Moo, the army barricaded the borders, but when there was nothing left to eat in Hyosan, the zombies broke into the neighboring city of Yangdong. The NIC had already proposed to expand martial law, but they needed a more concrete solution to the problem. As a last resort, Seon-Moo decided to bomb the city to contain the spread.
The scientist had conducted a few experiments on Eun-ji and deduced that the zombies responded most to a frequency of 24 kHz. Thus, with the help of sound-emitting drones, the army lured the zombies to four target locations: the Hyosan intersection, the sports complex, Hyosan high school, and Future College. Out of the 170,000 residents of Hyosan, 110,000 were in different quarantine zones, and the remaining were suspected to be infected. The army bombed the target locations to terminate the infected residents to end the zombie outbreak.
As soon as the surviving students of Hyosan High School heard the evacuation warning, they left the school premises and moved into the woods. However, even after a massive struggle, only seven of them survived, while six of them reached the quarantine camp. Nam-ra, dealing with her identity crisis and constant hunger, ran back to the city and decided to remain hidden.
These six survivors from the Hyosan high school were,
- Nam On-jo, neighbor-cum-lover of Lee Cheong-san and daughter of firefighter Nam So-ju.
- Park Mi-jin, a senior at school
- Jang Ha-ri, an archer and elder sister of Wu-jin
- Lee Su-Hyeok, a love interest of Nam-ra
- Yang Dae-su, a close friend of Wu-jin
- Seo Hyo-Ryung, the girl with the pink sleeveless sweater
‘All of Us Are Dead’ Season 1: Ending Explained
In remorse, Chief of Staff Seon-Moo took full responsibility for the bombing of Hyosan City and ultimately shot himself. After his death, the soldiers went into the city to terminate the remaining zombies and evacuate the survivors. They even inspected the infected area and posted warnings based on its safety. The NIC raided Byeong-chan’s house to retrieve documents related to his research and found his wife and son chained inside the premises. The person in charge commanded his men to preserve and transport them to their secured lab for testing and experimentation.
In the meantime, the surviving students of Hyosan High School reached the quarantine center while Nam-ra, the half Zombie, went back to Hyosan City. The government refused to hear any pleas for the bombing of Hyosan City until the epidemic situation had been entirely resolved. Martial law was removed after three months and 17 days, but as a precautionary measure, the residents of Hyosan remained in the quarantine center until the end of “All of Us Are Dead.”
The people generously donated to the survivors of Hyosan City, which would probably help the people to resume their lives. However, they would never be able to forget the scars left by the loss of their loved ones.
Nam On-jo created a memorial site outside the walls of the quarantine center to remember the people lost in the zombie attack. One night, she saw a campfire on the terrace of her school and informed Su-Hyeok that it might be Nam-ra who lit it, as she once pointed out that she loved sitting with them near a campfire.
Without a second thought, On-jo and Su-Hyeok decided to run away from the quarantine center at night to find Nam-ra. Inevitably, the other four surviving students joined them too, and they finally found Nam-ra on the terrace of their school. Nam-ra informed them that there are many other asymptomatic half-zombies in Hyosan who are a part of her new family now.
Throughout “All of Us Are Dead,” Nam-ra felt like an outcast and yearned for a sense of belongingness. She suffered from an identity crisis, which most teenagers go through when they are neither completely grown-up nor completely kids. However, in the end, she finally accepted the skin she was in, and maybe that was her greatest achievement as a person. She told On-jo and the others that she was neither a human nor a monster, and this complexity made her feel more humane. Nam-ra attained new powers as a half-zombie that helped her survive the deserted Hyosan, and she had already accepted this unique ecosystem as her new home.
Maybe the second season of “All of Us Are Dead” will look into these new breeds of zombies further and also explore the fate of Byeong-chan’s wife and son, taken into custody by the NIC. And for the remaining survivors of Hyosan high school, they will face the question of choosing a side: whether to protect half-zombies like Nam-ra or reveal the information to the army to end the problem for once and for all.
“All of Us Are Dead” is a drama television series based on the “Now at Our School” webtoon created by Joo Dong-geun. The series, written by Chun Sung-il, is streaming on Netflix.