Note to self: Quick turnaround makes all the difference.
The "quick turnaround" is to tap the d-pad back twice quickly. The instruction manual says "tap the d-pad twice quickly," but doesn't say which direction. All this time, I've been wondering why tapping it twice left or twice right didn't do a damn thing. Anyway... OH MY FREAKING GOD what a difference having that move makes. I'm probably seeing things a little skewed because I've won the game, but I went back and played through the ocean liner again (as Fong Ling this time) knowing the controls well (quick turnaround and escape) and damn what a difference! The characters feel downright agile now. The zombies feel like what they are - slow and stupid. I'm getting good at bullseyeing them too. It's very different game the second time around. No more running back to the safe rooms every three minutes for ammo.
I was going to say don't buy this game until it's $20, but now I'm almost convinced it's worth the $38. Maybe let it drop to $35. And get a used guncon2, they're freaking expensive new. (Though I'm having a good time with the Time Crisis II / guncon2 package I bought - they've added a lot of new stuff above and beyond the arcade game to TCII.)