SECRET ZOO (2020)
Low-brow slapstick comedy provides some guilty pleasure, but lacks overall coherence to stick its landing
The central set up for Secret Zoo sounds like something you might come up with at 3am in a late-night bar. “What if a junior lawyer had to run a zoo without animals?”
While many would shake-off such an idea by the time a hangover had taken grip, Secret Zoo instead tries its best to deliver, but too often loses its way.
Kang Tae-Soo (Ahn Jae-Hong) is a young lawyer hoping to make an impression at his firm and is charged with turning around the fortunes of a bankrupted local zoo the company has recently taken over. On his arrival as the new zoo director, he learns that its biggest animal attractions have been sold off to pay its debts.
Faced with running a zoo without animals, Kang decides that zoo visitors cannot tell if the animals are actually real, so opts to dress the remaining zoo staff as headline attractions such as the polar bear, lion and gorilla, plus the easier to achieve sloth.
When footage of Kang drinking a Coca-Cola dressed as a polar bear goes viral, the visitors flock back. However, it is unclear if this amusing scene is an homage to the famous Christmas advert or just a piece of blatant product placement.
Somehow January 2020 produced two zoo-based silly Korean comedies, with Mr. Zoo: The Missing VIP also using the people-dressed-as-zoo-animals gag.
Considering the silliness of the setup in Secret Zoo, it is not quite clear why so much of the film’s early stages are focused on dry legal discussions. However, when the film gets going around its central gag of the animal dress-up, it is likely to make plenty chortle in enjoyment while some might find genuine hilarity in such silliness. As far as physical comedy of this nature goes, it is hard not to lift a guilt smirk.
The real question as the film drags towards the two-hour mark, is if that is enough? What we instead get is a half-hearted attempt at various strands of social commentary. The ethics of animals in captivity and concerns of corporate greed are raised and then quickly roughed over.
Secret Zoo might have been better placed simply embracing the silliness of its central set-up, got there quicker and owned the absurdity over a tighter runtime.
Another seemingly side issue with the film that grows more apparent when you notice is the absence of a meaningful soundtrack or distinctive score. This might seem frivolous for a comedy where the jokes are king, but it clearly needs more to maintain its tempo.
Secret Zoo is not without merit and in a large audience setting is likely to draw crowd laughs. Overall though you are more likely to be sat as a melancholy zoo orangutan than chuckling like a wild hyena at this offering.