We covered ‘Train to Busan‘ when the film first emerged to great acclaim. Now, as it comes to DVD and blu-ray, John Kreng reaffirms its success, quality and importance to regional cinema…
Released by: Well Go USA Blu Ray (Region A – USA)
Special Features: Behind the scenes (13:01 min. 1080p) , That’s A Wrap (4:35 min. 1080p), Trailers for Operation Mekong, Tunnel, Phantasm: Remastered, The Wailing, Train to Busan
Audio: Korean DTS:X and 2.0 Stereo, English dubbed 5.1 DTS HDMA and 2.0 Stereo
Running time: 1 hr. 58 min
SRP: DVD- $24.98, Blu-ray- $29.98
Seok-Woo (공유 Gong Yoo) is a workaholic fund manager, separated from his wife and who lives with his mother and daughter Soo-An (김수안 Kim Soo-Ahn). Seok-Woo doesn’t spend much time with his daughter and fails terribly when tries to show any affection to her. On the night before Soo-An’s birthday, she insists on seeing her mother for her birthday. Seok-Woo has no other choice. So, the next morning, they board the train for Busan. Before the train leaves the station, a girl jumps onto the train who is infected with a horrific virus that, once bitten, turns you into a flesh eating zombie. The virus is rapidly spreading throughout the train and the entire country. Seok-Woo, Soo-An and the other passengers on the train must now fight for their lives. Hopefully, they can all make it safely to the next station for help before any more of the passengers get infected…
After the initial set up of the two main characters, the film becomes a non-stop thrill ride once the train leaves the station (around the 15-minute mark). There’s only minor blood and gore (no graphic displays of zombies eating or ripping out of anyone’s brains, guts, or entrails here) so gore hounds might be disappointed. But what you do get that is a solid story with arcs for each character that keep you emotionally invested in them as they are all constantly mere steps away from being part of a zombie buffet. On a deeper level, the film is about class struggle, the herd mentality, corporate callousness and the things people do when in life threatening fear. We are essentially seeing a morality play unfurl as the zombies push all the main characters past their emotional and ethical limits.
The performances by all the lead and supporting actors are extremely well played. Each actor gives their character depth and pathos (including the ‘villain’) in a short amount of screen time. Typically, when there is a little kid as one of the main characters in a horror movie, they are extremely obnoxious, whiny and grate on your nerves and patience… so much so, that by the end of the film you want to see the kid get caught by a zombie and cheer as they get devoured! I’m happy to say this is not the case this time. At 10 years old, Kim Soo-An gives a great performance and is the force that drives this movie – as the daughter who is constantly trying to reach out and connect to her emotionally unavailable father. She is already a five year veteran in the entertainment industry and I expect (and hope) to see great things coming from Kim Soo-An throughout her career.
The cinematography and editing do not call any unnecessary attention to themselves nor use any cheap tricks to disorient the audience. They both do a masterful job of visually creating the claustrophobic feel of being stuck on a train and the zombie chaos while hyper-kinetically moving the story along, without sacrificing the character development and melodrama between all the survivor/passengers.
The two special features (which run to 18 minutes) show how certain scenes were done and the effective use of a green screen. I personally wished they included more behind the scenes footage and interviews about what went into the making of this feature. For purists, the DVD and blu-ray is presented in its original Korean dialogue as well as an English dubbed track.
Train to Busan marks the first live action film for director Yeon Sang-Ho (he previously directed two animated films, with Seoul Station being a prequel to this film). He only did not hit a home run at his first at bat with this movie, but he hit a grand slam! The movie is currently Korea’s highest grossing film along with other regions in Asia. Of course, the simple premise director Yeon has crafted is nothing new. It’s been done countless times over and over for decades. But the difference is it’s all executed well.
Gaumont (a French mini-major studio with a production arm in Hollywood) recently bought the rights for the Hollywood remake of this film. I can only hope the filmmakers take serious notes on what made this movie successful with critics, audiences, and in the box office. I’m sure the Hollywood remake will cost 10 times the amount of the original Korean version, with a lot of name stars, and bigger special effects. Korean films have been getting a lot of notice on the international market for about 25 years and in the past have spawned many unsuccessful Western remakes (like Old Boy, My Sassy Girl, The Lake House/ Il Mare, Mirrors/ Into The Mirror, The Uninvited/ A Tale of 2 Sisters, etc). But history has shown us that Hollywood remakes of Korean films have been systematically dumbed-down and neutered of all the melodrama that binds all the characters together. They do this in order to reach a wider audience. Unfortunately, with that much of a shift the remake usually ends up as an expensive and formulaic looking imitation that pales in an emotional level that fails to connect with the audience.
Train to Busan is everything World War Z should have been. The film is full of action, suspense, thrills, pathos, effective melodrama, and an unpredictable script that always keeps you guessing what will happen next. Everything in this film from acting, cinematography, make up, practical special effects, CGI, stunts, editing, music, and writing is all top notch.
It’s hard not to watch this movie while not sitting on the edge of your seat, even after repeated viewings. I know I sure tried. This is an instant classic that should be in any film connoisseur’s collection, even if you are not a’die-hard’ zombie/horror film fan.
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