Based on the webcomic series Haechijiana by Hun that ran from 2011 to 2012, Secret Zoo is a charming and delightful comedy about a zoo struggling to stay afloat. The film, directed by Son Jae-gon, is playing as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), which is running online only. Secret Zoo, like two other offerings, will only have two screenings: Saturday, September 5 at 8:00 PM and Tuesday, September 8 at 5:00 PM. My review is based on watching an online screener back in January 2020 in conjunction with the film’s theatrical opening in the U.S.A. that month.
Kang Tae-soo (Ahn Jae-hong) is a young lawyer who has worked as a temp at JH Law for eight months and fervently wants to secure a permanent position in the firm’s Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) department. It looks like his opportunity has arrived when he is tasked with normalizing and maintaining the failing Dongsan Park Zoo within three months for one of his employer’s clients. The trouble is that all the viable animals have been sold off by loan sharks to pay the zoo’s debts!
Undeterred, Tae-soo comes up with a plan to used somewhat realistic-looking animal costumes for the four remaining members of the staff to wear and fool the public. Not surprisingly, things don’t go well; until, that is, a chance event goes viral on the Internet and transforms the zoo into a major attraction.
Given the nature of the genre, one knows that things are basically going to turn out alright at film’s end. It’s really a matter of how convincing the rather outlandish premise is depicted and how interesting the twists and turns are. On all these accounts, the film succeeds admirably. In short, I found Secret Zoo to be a very enjoyable comedy that’s well-worth watching.
Dr. Stan Glick became seriously interested in Asian films in the mid-90s after reading Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head. His first Asian film review, on Tokyo Blue: Case 1 starring the delectable Keiko Shiratori, appeared in Asian Cult Cinema magazine in 2000. He became a columnist about a year later, a position he held until Asian Cult Cinema ceased publication at the end of 2009. Meanwhile, Stan began his own blog, AsianCineFest, at the end of June 2006. Living in New York, he has covered many of the festivals and film series there over the years, and has also interviewed several Asian film directors, actors, and actresses, including Lee Chang-dong, Tsui Hark, Joe Shishido, and Sora Aoi.