Thailand 2004
Directed by Taweewat Wantha.

Zombie movies are a dime a dozen these days, and though many of them are extremely bad, there is a built in audience that keeps shambling forward for more, and keep watching them despite being burned so many times in the past. What a relief, then, when the movie is actually entertaining. SARS WARS is an apocalyptic, self-aware, pop-culture comedy that will eat your brain. Easily ranks among the best Asian zombie films, taking place alongside WILD ZERO (2000, Japan) and BIO-ZOMBIE (1998, Hong Kong).

The original SARS virus, it must be remembered, was quite vicious when it erupted in Asia in 2003 and quickly spread to several dozen countries, killing almost 800 people before finally being stamped out. In the future, SARS virus No. 4 will be substantially worse, since it basically turns people into shambling zombies that crave human flesh. Thailand is proud to proclaim that they are the only virus free nation in Asia, but all it takes is one small, biting insect to hitch a ride on an airplane from an epidemic spot in Africa to Thailand for the virus to erupt and spead quickly through a single condominium building.

In that same building, a group of bumbling but dangerous thugs have kidnapped Liu (Phintusuda Tunphairao), the daughter of a rich smuggler. Her father hires Master Thun (Suthep Po-ngam), and the Master's number one student Khun (Supakorn Kitsuwon) to get the girl back, and they fearlessly enter the condominium as the zombie menace begins to grow. Also on hand is Diana (Lena Christensen), the doctor who discovered the cure of the SARS virus No. 3, ready to try various experimental cures on victims of No. 4. They fight their way through the building, while the police set charges to blow it up, and if that's not enough, a giant snake roams the halls, swallowing people whole. As Master Thun observes, "zombies, a bomb, and now a giant snake! Boy, the producers really want to make big bucks with this movie!"

Which brings us to the comedy. SARS WARS is very funny. It is very self-aware, as when a couple girls are given to Master Thun to entice him to help rescue Liu, but he pushes them back just as they are about to take off their tops. "Don't you like my girls?" the man asks. Thun replies, "Yes, but I'm afraid the censors won't!," a poke at the strict censorship of Thai movies that keeps most nudity well off the screen. It also throws in references to lots of familiar films, such as the lightsaber in STAR WARS, or the animated portions of KILL BILL. To balance the comedy, the zombies remain completely serious, so there always remains an element of peril.

SARS WARS starts strong and never lets up. However, like most zombie films, it should be remembered that it has been made for the adolescent boy in all of us, and focuses on zombies, guns, blood & gore, and really sexy girls wearing lots of leather for no explicable reason. I loved it, but your mileage may vary.

[The Thai DVD has a number of rather long deleted scenes, that are ultimately not very good, pretty much like most deleted scenes. In the U.S., Discotek Media has licensed the film, and an R1 DVD is scheduled to be released July 2006.]

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on February 24, 2006.

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