The Sadness is a gore-filled masterpiece of a horror movie. Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz while living in Taiwan, The Sadness is as mean and nasty as any horror movie released in the past few decades. It’s also one of the best films of 2022.
The story follows a young couple, Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei). Their day starts out normal, but after Jim drops off Kat for work, chaos erupts in Taiwan. A highly contagious virus referred to as “Alvin” is causing people to act on their most vile impulses. Ordinary people are raping, murdering, and torturing random people, often committing all three acts at the same time. As countless people become infected, Jim and Kat separately fight for survival while trying to make their ways back to each other.
News about the craziness of The Sadness had been simmering for the better part of a year before the movie finally received a streaming release on Shudder in May of 2022. The buildup was worth the wait. The Sadness quickly became a hit with horror fans who were either delighted or disturbed by its transgressive story and visuals. Collected here are facts and trivia about The Sadness that will help deepen your appreciation for this extraordinary movie.
Inspirations for the Story and Characters
1. Rob Jabbaz was partially inspired by the comic book series Crossed (created by Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows) when coming up with the main idea for The Sadness. The infected in Crossed act on their worst impulses just like the infected in The Sadness do, but Jabbaz wanted to downplay the humor he saw in Crossed.
2. Rob Jabbaz also cites “old David Cronenberg movies” as inspirations for The Sadness.
3. On the commentary track for the Blu-ray release of The Sadness, Jabbaz cites Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) as a source of inspiration for the plot structure of his film. He says, just like in Pee-Wee’s movie, The Sadness is structured around someone traveling while encountering a series of different, often unrelated events.
4. Another influence is the 1977 short story “The Screwfly Solution” by Alice “Raccoona” Sheldon. In the story, an epidemic turns male sexual impulses into murderous urges, and it causes women to be unusually passive in the face of aggression.
5. Some sites have associated The Sadness with the infamous Category III films from Hong Kong in the 1990s. Jabbaz dismisses the claim that his movie is inspired by some of the more famous CAT III movies, saying those films tended to have a lot of goofy humor which The Sadness consciously avoids.
6. The subway scene in The Sadness is directly inspired by a 2014 mass murder that occurred on a train in the Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (Taipei Metro) system.
7. The attacker in the 2014 Taipei Metro massacre was quoted as saying that he wanted to do something “shocking and big,” and he had thought about the attack since childhood. In The Sadness, after violently stabbing five people, the attacker asks other people on the train, “did I break the record?” Four people were killed in the real-life attack in Taipei.
8. Without naming names, Rob Jabbaz has inferred that the character of Xie Guo-Rong, the fictional President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), is based on former president Ma Ying-Jeou. As Jabbaz puts it, “that was a time when Taiwan actually didn’t trust the government” (Rue Morgue #201, p.15).
9. The scene where a man is rammed groin first into a pole wrapped in barbed wire is inspired by a real-life activity called, in Taiwan, “aluba.” Popular in East and Southeast Asia among high school boys, aluba is when a group of boys lifts another boy by his arms and legs and then pushes or rubs the boy’s groin against a pole or similar structure. Naturally, barbed wire isn’t often used.
10. It’s noted that the “victim” in aluba is often a willing participant, so the man’s reaction in The Sadness of not wanting his torture to stop is consistent with many Taiwanese men’s perception of aluba.
How The Sadness Was Made
11. Writer/director Rob Jabbaz moved from Canada to Taiwan in 2008 with the intention of working as a graffiti artist and documenting his work (Rue Morgue #201, p.14).
12. While living in Taiwan, Jabbaz started learning computer animation and began to work in the field as a freelancer. His freelance work led to Jabbaz meeting former pop-star and current tech entrepreneur Li-Cheng “Jeffrey” Huang. Huang expressed interest to Jabbaz about making a movie featuring zombies, and the movie eventually turned into The Sadness.
13. Before writing The Sadness, Rob Jabbaz started writing a very different script. Inspired by an idea from Jeffrey Huang, Jabbaz worked for eight months on a story about math equations that can’t be understood and drive people into a zombie-like state.
14. The original script would have been a zombie movie set “in a facility like in Resident Evil” (Rue Morgue #201, p.14).
15. The pandemic shifted Jabbaz’s focus away from the Resident-Evil-like story and towards something much more topical.
16. Jabbaz has stated that Taiwan’s efficient handling of the pandemic in its early days gave him a window to make a movie while film studios around the world were being forced to shut down.
17. As gory and violent as The Sadness is, Rob Jabbaz didn’t want to take the violence so far as to make it look comical, or for the audience to “turn on” the movie because of a perception of celebrating sexual violence. He says there is a “sensibility of restraint” in his approach to the movie’s more extreme moments.
18. The script for The Sadness was written in English and then translated into Mandarin Chinese.
19. The characters in The Sadness also speak in Hokkien from time to time. Rob Jabbaz describes Hokkien as “a sort of [ancestral] language that people curse in” (Rue Morgue #201, p. 17). The language is used to make the words spoken by certain characters hit harder for the Taiwanese audience.
The Troubled Release of The Sadness
20. The Sadness was first released to theaters in Taiwan in January of 2021. Rob Jabbaz says the studio didn’t like the movie and were content with losing money in a short theatrical run before trying to sell it to Netflix.
21. Netflix passed on The Sadness, and Jabbaz ended up selling the movie to distributor Raven Banner himself. Raven Banner then sold the streaming rights to Shudder.
22. Raven Banner decided to hit the film festival circuit as a way of generating word-of-mouth publicity before giving The Sadness a worldwide release in 2022.
23. The Sadness did indeed create a buzz from its festival appearances, winning Best First Feature at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival.
24. The Sadness also won the Audience Award at the 2021 Grimmfest, as well as getting special mentions for the Best SFX and Best Feature awards.
25. The special effects team, IF SFX Art Maker, spent about three months coming up with the various props and setups for the movie.
About the Cast
26. Rob Jabbaz initially thought Berant Zhu (who plays Jim) was aloof and acting like he didn’t really want to be involved with the movie (Rue Morgue #201, p.17). Once shooting started, Jabbaz realized through Berant’s performance that the young actor was so intensely dedicated to the role that what came across as aloofness was really an introverted, artistic demeanor.
27. The role of Kat was initially intended for someone around 30 years old and more of “an Ellen Ripley type” (Rue Morgue #201, p.17). After casting Berant Zhu, Jabbaz felt he needed to cast someone younger for Jim’s girlfriend.
28. Jabbaz credits Tzu-Chiang “Johnny” Wang (who plays The Businessman) as his best actor. Jabbaz has said that Wang brought an intensity to his role that wasn’t necessarily present in the script.
More About Writer/Director Rob Jabbaz
29. Jabbaz isn’t a big fan of modern zombie movies. To differentiate his movie from the pack of zombie fiction, Jabbaz made his monsters fully aware of the cruelty they are causing. The deliberate intent of malice is what he focused on, making his infected more like the infected in The Crazies (2010) than in any number of contemporary zombie movies.
30. Rob Jabbaz’s favorite zombie movie is Return of the Living Dead (1985).
31. Despite being widely marketed as a zombie movie, Rob Jabbaz is hesitant to refer to the infected people in The Sadness as zombies (though in some interviews he does use the term).
32. The cartoon seen when Jim turns on the TV in his apartment was animated by Rob Jabbaz. The characters date back to at least 2012, though the animation is dated as 2013.
33. The wolf in the cartoon on Jim’s TV winks at the camera before being seen having sex with women while two anthropomorphic crows watch. This is certainly foreshadowing the sexual violence seen throughout the movie.
34. It may a bit of a stretch, but the wolf raping women while two crows watch could also be a subtle reference to the businessman character who intends to rape Kat after he traps two other infected men behind doors that contain large windows.
35. As for future projects, Rob Jabbaz has expressed interest in creating a full-length feature out of his short film Clearwater (2020).
36. Clearwater is based on a short comic book written and illustrated by Jabbaz. The book can be read online here: https://issuu.com/robjabbaz/docs/clearwater