Train to Busan (2016) Review
Director(s): Yeon Sang-ho
Writer(s): Park Joo-suk
Cast: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee
Plot: Accompanying his daughter, Soo-an (Kim Su-an), to meet his ex-wife in Busan, fund manager Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) finds both their lives in danger when a viral outbreak rips through the train and South Korea.
Review: Touted as South Korea’s first zombie film, Train to Busan has a lot riding on its shoulders; pleasing genre fans, satiating the general audience, and making bank in the box office. And unsurprisingly, it’s a film that succeeds at each, as the quality boom in South Korean filmmaking in the past decade and a half has shown repeatedly. Though the film lacks innovation in progressing the horror subgenre – the ‘temporary weakness’ of the film’s zombies doesn’t count –, director Yeon Sang-ho offsets it with filmmaking creativity in staging action sequences befitting the film’s title.
Adapting the sprinting variation of zombies first popularized by 28 Days Later (2002) – though Return of the Living Dead (1985) introduced the concept first –, and mimicking the absurd pile-on effect seen in World War Z (2013), Train to Busan departs the more common zombie films by virtue of ‘individuality’ in the pop culture zeitgeist of The Walking Dead style of undead storytelling. Confining the majority of the film on the train the characters are riding, Sang-ho essentially turns the airplane sequence from World War Z into a fully functioning and realized series of action sequences, as characters are forced from one coach to another throughout the film.
With the film being akin to an arcade zombie sidescrolling shooter, the filmmakers manage to further inject social commentary amidst the existing utter chaos that transpires on the train, a trait that is shared among almost every South Korean film, as the film touches on Korean class warfare – akin to Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer (2013) –, parenthood, and the lovable human nature of screwing others over in times of desperation. Where the action forms the film’s outer shell, the story, characters, themes, and the performances form the core of Train to Busan.
That isn’t to say the film excels at what it tries to explore whilst zombies who look like Koreans at an open buffet with kimchi on their faces attempt to kill everyone in sight, but the effort by the filmmakers in constructing something that is a little more than a generic zombie action thriller is commendable, and the straight-faced, oddly lacking in the usual Korean comedic eccentricities Train to Busan is certainly more than a generic splatterfest.