The walking undead headed to Seoul
It’s an eerily quiet October evening. The moon casts a long shadow as you scuffle by a dark alley. You adjust your coat as the chill of the night seeps through. All of a sudden, on the other side of the narrow path, you notice a silhouette of a disheveled person in ragged clothes, walking toward you in an unsteady, uneven gait.
At first you think it’s a drunken ajeossi. As you get closer, the shadowy outline reveals a blood-thirsty, flesh-eating monster, moaning “Brains!” as it slumps forward with shaky arms of purple rotten flesh.
Has the zombie apocalypse become a reality? Are bath salts finally being circulated in Korea? Sadly no, but it is the next best thing: the Third Annual Seoul Zombie Walk.
Two years ago, Philippe Teston, Mia Pak, Kevin Seabolt and Todd Williams mashed their brains together with the mission to recreate in Korea the age-old tradition of Halloween haunted fun and to share with Koreans what they miss most from their childhood and their hometowns stateside. The Seoul Annual Zombie Walk was born. They drew an impressive 100 or so zombies the first year simply through word of mouth and Facebook outreach, and the number nearly doubled the following year.
The zombies “come from all walks of life — pun intended,” says Teston. Many zombie-loving Koreans and expats alike have come out to celebrate life, or lack thereof, by partaking in this shriek-inspiring stroll. They are aged mostly between 20 and 40, though some gore-donning children and seniors have been spotted staggering along the way. The organizers last year also saw a lot of returnees from the first year and expect to see more of them come for what is expected to be another successful zombie crawl this year, slated for Oct. 27.
The evening doesn’t start with a mutated strain of virus outbreak like in the movies. Instead zombies assemble either in plain dress or come fully prepared to the rendezvous point in Seoul Forest. In this dark, evil forest — actually, in a well-lit area near the sculpture and skate park — people begin to gather at 6 p.m. to mingle and become undead. The brain-hungry cohort will then leave the park at around 8 p.m. toward Ttukseom Station, Line 2, headed for Hongdae.
Since the group is expected to be slow in pace and large in number, they will be occupying several different trains and stations for a prolonged period of time, much to the screaming pleasure of terrified children and camera-happy Seoulites on the streets and in the subway cars.
“Walkers are often asked to pose for pictures with passersby,” says Pak, pointing out the perks of riding the subway and venturing through the streets.
Teston chimes in: “If I had a 1,000 won for every photo that was taken of me last year, I’d probably have 200 bucks! Not bad for just standing on the sidewalk.”
The public reaction to the zombie attack ranges from amusement to sheer terror. “Some initial reactions are confusion, amusement and ‘I don’t know what this is but I better take a picture of it.’ Some are initially scared but most realize that it’s a fun and amusing event,” Pak says.
Teston adds, “I think one of my favorite moments was scaring a Korean guy and his girlfriend. The girl wasn’t scared at all, but the guy … Well, let’s just say he used his girlfriend as a human shield.”
The zombies almost had a run-in with law enforcement the first year, the organizers said, when a disapproving elderly Korean man called the police as the undead were waiting for the train. The policeman with a good sense realized that they weren’t up to any misdeed and let them on their way.
“Everyone’s safety is our primary concern. The walk route has very limited exposure to traffic. We make announcements before the walk asking everyone to refrain from actually touching anyone and to comply with whatever law enforcement says if any should approach us,” says Pak, emphasizing that they focus on more than just entertainment when planning the event.
Once the zombies arrive in Hongdae, where they are met with higher enthusiasm and more excited crowds, other zombies who couldn’t make the trip out to the forest join them. Last year they staged impromptu performances of “Thriller” with someone’s portable radio. Perhaps this year there will be a swashing and staggering equestrian dance performance of “Gangnam Style,” the zombie version. One can only hope.
Last year, the zombie walk was followed by a party at club Freebird in Hongdae, where every flesh-eating zombie received a free drink with admission. “We had several bands dress up and play zombie-themed songs for us,” says Pak. “We are currently working out the details of this year’s after-party.”
Contrary to the long line of zombie flicks in the West, in Korea there is just one zombie film —“Neighbor Zombie” in English — which is surprising as Teston attests to its popularity in Korea when asked if zombie culture was well known here: “I don’t know a single Korean kid (who) doesn’t know what a zombie is.
“A good zombie walk needs people (who) are genuinely interested in zombies,” says Teston. “It’s a good thing that lots of people in Korea love zombies. And it also needs a good reaction from the public. We’ve been really lucky with that last part – with all the stress that Korean society puts on people, it’s nice to have an event like this where people can unwind and have a little fun, and I think that’s the big attraction.”
Need a costume?
For those who want to join in on the gore-splashing fun this October, Pak says costume shops open up around Seoul closer to Halloween, and there are several professional costume makeup shops around the city. For example, at www.viseart.co.kr and www.probunjang.com, one can find the necessary tools to transform oneself into formidable moving corpses.
The Annual Zombie Walk is even opening the event up to charity in collaboration with Little Travellers-Korea, an organization which will selling Little Traveller zombie doll pins during the walk and the after-party. All proceeds will be used toward fighting against HIV/AIDS in the KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa. More information can be found on the charity group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/little.t.korea.
More info: 3rd Annual Zombie Walk and after-party
When: Saturday, Oct. 27, from 6 p.m.
Where: Starts in Seoul Forest, ends in Hongdae