Suited Familiarity: Our Review of ‘Secret Zoo’

Posted in Movies, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - November 10, 2020
Suited Familiarity: Our Review of ‘Secret Zoo’

Arriving on VOD/DVD this week is the Korean comedy Secret Zoo that was a minor hit in Korean cinemas back in January before the world changed. The film’s premise may sound original but the script manages to deliver some very familiar tones.

Kang Tae-su (Ahn Jae-hong) is a temp office worker in a law firm. Desperate to prove his worth to the company and his employer, Tae-su takes on whatever difficult tasks that he’s assigned, which leads to a unique opportunity. Tae-su is made the new Director of the Dongsan Park Zoo, which he is to prepare for a sale. Without asking any further information, Tae-su is off the zoo, only to discover the oddball crew of employees and no animals other than an ornery polar bear. With only 3 months to turn around the park, Tae-su devises a scheme to inhabit the zoo with the employees under elaborate costumes, all while trying to acquire new animals. But after an incident at the park goes viral online- the zoo is packed every day, and soon after the true intentions of the future of the park are revealed.

Secret Zoo both embraces and suffers from an undeniable sense of familiarity. The premise may be different, but the film still feels insanely familiar. The young impressionable lead who can’t see the ulterior motives behind the situation, the lovable former director of the zoo (Park Yeong-gyu) who sold off all the animals but still has a dedicated crew of oddballs left.

From the overly dedicated animal handler, who in the American version would definitely be the ‘love interest’ (Kang So-ra) to the girl who’s being mistreated by her boyfriend and the boy who not so secretly pines for her (Jeon Yeo-bin and Kim Seong-oh), these are character types we have seen many times before. Thankfully the performances from the main cast are earnest enough that they maintain the viewer’s attention throughout, endearing themselves to the audience even though a good portion of the time they are stuck in animal suits.

The film itself follows a tried and true pattern, the oddball group succeeds despite the odds only to find in the end they were being duped from the very beginning, only to have the film all wrapped up nicely in the end without any real consequences for their actions. Its digestible cinema, never really staying with you much past the ending other than the general nice feeling you have about the film, details, and story quickly fading after leaving the theater. That said, with everyone currently stuck at home anyways, that may not be such a bad thing. The film, at just under 2 hours, does run longer than it should though as it would likely perform better at an 85-95 minute run time. While not necessarily feeling padded there are certainly plenty of places of excess fluff in the film that could be trimmed.

The animal suits themselves actually look great on-screen, while intentionally made to not look completely real so the CG ‘real’ animals look more impressive. And the actors in the suits do good work here as well. But in the end, despite the setting, you can’t help but feel we’ve seen all Secret Zoo has to offer many times before. But for a nice watch to fill an afternoon at home, there are a lot worse offers out there. And the cast is so damn charming they’ll keep you entertained, despite an ending that everyone will see coming from miles away.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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