Directed by Kim Sung-Hoon, Rampant is an unexpectedly fascinating mashup of genres as classical Asian cinema meets horror film. After all, a period piece about a Korean prince who returns home amidst political turmoil hardly screams zombie apocalypse. Somewhat surprisingly, however, Rampant proves itself to be a fun and engaging film that breathes fresh life into the genre.
Set in ancient South Korea, Rampant tells the story of Prince Ganglim (Hyun Bin), the heir to the throne of the Joseon region. Returning home as a result of his brother’s death, Ganglim soon discovers that a darkness looms over his home province as murderous creatures known as Night Demons have overrun the country. With the nightmarish monsters plaguing the country and the minister of military Kim Ja-joon (Jang Dong-gun) plotting to overthrow the dynasty, Prince Ganglim realizes that he must fight in order to save his home country.
While the film contains plenty of the gore and violence that one would expect from the zombie genre, the heart of the film lies in the journey of Prince Ganglim and his relationship with the throne. Returning home due to the death of his brother, Ganglim has no interest in taking the seat of power from his father when the time comes. A womanizer with a proficiency to curse, Ganglim hardly lives his life in a manner that reveals the image of a King (nor is he interested in doing so). Though respectful of the culture of the time, he strangely seems like a man out of time, more interested in his own freedom than continuing the family legacy of leadership. To Ganglim, leadership represents power, control and maintaining the status quo – three words that he finds utterly repulsive. The Joseon region is in dire need of change, though he does not believe he is the one to bring it to fruition given his values and interests.
With this in mind, Ganglim’s journey speaks to his understanding of the nature of leadership. Though he views the throne through the eyes of power, the people of the Joseon region view it as a position of servanthood. (“Without the people, there is no king,” Ganglim is reminded.) As Ganglim begins to realize that the nature of leadership stems from one’s desire to seek the best for those under their care, he also begins to recognize that genuine change may be possible. (Incidentally, Ganglim’s views are diametrically opposed to the Minister of War Kim, Ja-joon. Although he also believes a new world must be created, his tactics reveal his belief that change comes not from altering the systems of power but simply placing himself in the role instead.) Here, Ganglim must realize that true leadership comes when royalty humble themselves and take the very nature of a servant. As he does, he opens his heart to become more than the selfish regime that came before.In the end, Rampant serves its audience well. By balancing the gore and intensity of the zombie genre with the classical battle for power of other Asian period pieces, the film creates space for something new while honouring tradition. Still, the true heart of the film lies in one hero’s journey to rebirth as a true leader.
Rampant is available on demand on February 26th, 2019