Lock, rolling stock and two smoking barrels..? Korean horror film ‘Train to Busan’ is a bloody entertaining but also intelligent take on the zombie genre…
It seems that nowadays you can’t escape zombies… According to the Dawn of the Dead remake, World War Z or even Danny Boyle’s (‘no, no, no, its not a zombie movie, really‘) 28 Days Later, you can’t even outrun them – they can run faster! Even if they can’t, sheer numbers will overcome you as in The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead and the Romero zombie movies…. And now…even if you get on A TRAIN in the hope of escape there’s a good chance the zombie outbreak may well cause delays to your journey and other inconveniences!
Train to Busan wastes no time in setting up that scenario: the movie opens as truck is stopped by a group of men in protective suits who are spraying the area and inform the driver that there’s been a leak at a nearby chemical plant. The driver is waved on but hits a deer a short distance down the world. He drives on and a few seconds later the animal spasms and shakily finds its way to its feet, the camera zooms in and we see its eyes are an unnatural white.
Within the next ten minutes we’re introduced to the main cast as they all find themselves aboard a train that’s about to head to Busan. Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) is a divorced fund manager struggling to balance his job and his share of parental duties and failing miserably at the latter. It seems as his daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) wants nothing to do with him, and wants to be returned to her mother in Busan – hence the need for their journey to which her father reluctantly agrees. There’s also a married couple expecting their first baby, Sang Hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and Seong-kyong (Jung Yu-mi), the members of a High School Baseball team, a narrow minded company CEO, two older sisters, and two people who sneak onto the train just as it’s leaving the station. The first is a disturbed and bedraggled man who mutters “They’re all dead…‘, while a young woman is suffering from what appears to be a severe bite wound to her leg.
Within moments of the train leaving the station, all hell breaks lose as the young woman’s eyes turn white and she bites one of the train attendants, who in turn bites various passengers… who in turn…well, you get the picture! The survivors are immediately thrust into fighting for their lives, and when a scheduled stop that should have saved them goes wrong, they find themselves divided at either end of the train. Seok-woo and Sang-hwa, who’ve hardly got off to a good start, have to fight their way through the train to reach their loved ones!
Director Yeon Sang-ho who had worked in animation before this, also released Seoul Station an animated companion to the movie, which serves as a prequel. But this main event certainly certainly delivers with this movie. Of course, a lot of people have compared it to Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, largely because they’re both Korean films and the two movies feature trains! (But by that factor we could add the 70s schlocky Horror Express that also took place on a train, or even The Hunted for the scene where our heroes have to battle a Ninja invasion on a train!) One shouldn’t just throw out names of other ‘movies on a train’ as a comparison! However, I would say the film does bear some resemblance to Hong Kong based writer/director Arne Venema’s proposed Hooligans that was actually pitched at the Busan Film Festival a few years ago and which featured a zombie’ish outbreak besieging a train after an international football match.
Yeon’s film, which broke box office records in Korea and across Asia, becoming the largest-grossing Korean movie ever released in Hong Kong and Singapore and it proves a very solid thriller. It’s a tad overlong but comes highly recommended! He wastes no time in introducing his main characters and the dynamic between them: the put upon businessman who must step up, the former gangster trying to start a new life, the despicable CEO… and they all work, even the sweet and innocent little girl doesn’t become annoying or sickeningly sweet, she gives a very good performance.
Wisely, the film isn’t a non-stop gore fest – but yes, there’s some extreme moments that work very well and a great mix of practical and CGI effects. These include a moment where zombies fall from a passing helicopter, hit the ground with a sickening impact and then get up and eat the witnesses! Or the finale where we really see the effects of a MASS zombie outbreak.The violence is bloody and handled well, none of the characters are enjoying have to let loose with a baseball bat or their fists on the infected, its just a matter of survival.
Train to Busan gets the thumbs up from Impact as a worthy addition to the genre and we’d love to see where Yeon goes next. The animated ‘Seoul‘ prequel connects so well and there’s already talk of a possible International remake and sequels – we can but hope they are handled just as well. Taiwan’s recent Zombie 108 and Zombie Fight Club had some great ideas but quickly fell into the sleazy and depraved style of film-making, whereas Train to Busan handles it the right way.
An intelligent walking dead, Train to Busan has gore, but also braaaaains.