After seeing a Hong Kong take on Italian horror (We’re Going to Eat You), I decided to check out a Japanese version of the same. Japan has produced explicit homages to Italian horror before, like the good-to-excellent Evil Dead Trap, so I was expecting at least competence. Junk is at least a competent entry into the zombie-horror entry, but it falls pretty far short of being an inspired one. It’s got all the ingredients, but the flair of the chef is missing, and it never winds up being more than an amusing time-waster.
Part of the problem, I think, is that this territory has become played-out. Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus had zombies and gangsters, too, but he found ways to move the whole thing into new directions. Junk is at core a remake of Return of the Living Dead, with a little of Re-Animator thrown in for good measure, along with some of director Atsushi Muroga’s earlier gangster-revenge movie Score, right down to the jewel-heist subplot. If this had been released ten years earlier it would have been terrific, but for it to have been made in 2000 is somewhat embarrassing.
Junk opens with a pair of scientists (English-speaking, as a fair amount of the cast is American) working to bring a dead Japanese girl back to life using a glowing green serum (sound familiar?). She’s resurrected, all right, but the first thing she does upon returning from the grave is tear a hefty chunk out of her savior’s neck and start chowing down. (What is it about coming back from the dead that turns people into cannibals, anyway? Is the catering on the other side really that bad?)
Meanwhile, four smalltime crooks don masks and steal over 100 million yen from a classy jewelry store. They’ve worked out a plan to fence the jewels for cash, courtesy of a big-time yakuza kingpin, at some abandoned military site in the countryside. This is, of course, the same place where the resurrection experiments have been taking place. As we learn in another plot thread, the scientist originally responsible for this whole mess is now being drafted to go back and clean up the mess — by setting off a bomb that will level the building and everything around it.
The jewelry deal goes sour, and the four thugs are about to get riddled with bullets when the zombies stagger in. They have the usual movie-zombie attributes we’ve all grown to know and love: they don’t move very fast, they eat human flesh, and they can almost always be incapacitated with a bullet to the head. Evidently our gangster friends have not seen enough zombie movies, and so they waste ridiculous amounts of ammo on torso shots. Let’s not forget the all-important fourth element that comes into play: if you’re bitten by a zombie, you come back as one yourself. Consequently, many of our dead friends make an encore showing — in white face paint and corn syrup makeup, and with their gnawed-on intestines hanging out.
Junk doesn’t rise much above delivering the basics — zombies, violence, gore — but I had to smile at a few of the clever moments, as when the “queen zombie” keeps on coming despite having been sliced in half with a shovel. On the minus side, there’s a subplot involving a used-car dealer that plays out like a shaggy-dog story, and the English-speaking characters have some of the most wooden dialogue and acting imaginable. It doesn’t help that the scientist, who is Japanese, speaks such thickly-accented English that his dialogue is close to incomprehensible.
Movies like this are critic-proof. They exist to deliver action, blood, and surprises, and the people who want to see them will see them without me needing to recommend them. That said, I should point out that Junk belongs near the bottom of a list of such movies, the sort of thing you only rent after you’ve already seen 28 Days Later (or Bio-Zombie, or even Wild Zero) a few times. It’s a zombie movie as Chinese food: palatable, temporarily filling, and forgettable.