Train to Busan (Busanhaeng) (2016) is the first live-action film from South Korean director Yeon Sang-Ho. His first three films were animated: The King of Pigs (2011), The Fake (2013) and Seoul Station (2016), and he wrote all four of the above features as well. I am not up-to-date on a lot of Asian horror, still a few years behind everybody and trying to catch up, but in my research I learned that the animated Seoul Station is a zombie flick, might be related to Train to Busan, and, according to some reviewers, is a much better film. Perhaps I should not have written that here at the beginning of this review, but suffice it to say that Seoul Station must be a really great film. Train to Busan opens with probably the best zombie intro ever, and I am going to spoil it in this paragraph so jump ahead if you like, but as usual, I am only going to spoil the first ten minutes. A truck is sprayed down at a checkpoint and along the road the driver hits a small deer. The truck leaves and the deer jerks to life, or death rather. Right off the bat we know everything we need to know for now to keep us in our seats. Seok Woo (Gong Yoo) is a divorced funds manager, and we are introduced to him in his office as he talks to a client on the phone, tells his assistant to sell everything, asks his assistant what kids like and talks to his ex-wife about their daughter’s upcoming birthday. At the house he talks to his own mom and finds his daughter under the covers on the phone with her mom. The girl Soo-An is played precociously by, uhm, Su-An— Kim Su-An, and if this girl does not make you—at least want to—cry, or at least claim an allergic reaction, then you truly have no soul. He gives her the present that his assistant suggested, but she has one already, one he actually bought her on Children’s Day. What is this Children’s Day, and do they have anything in South Korea like middle-aged man day? So, he asks her what else she wants, and she wants to go to the last word in the title, Busan, which is where her mom is. His mom tries to get him to go back to his wife, he tells her he and Soo-an are going to Busan tomorrow, and then he watches a video from his daughter’s school in which Soo-an starts singing in her classroom, but she messes it up and gets laughed at. That is the first ten. So we get it, absentee divorcee, work-minded dad tries to reconnect with daughter. The rest of the film is a competent, engrossing, train-ride of a story, literally and figuratively, that sometimes shows us something new to the genre. Our disaster movie manifest includes the following passengers: Sang Hwa (Ma Dong-Seok) and Sung Gyeong (Jung Yu-Mi) play an expecting couple; Gwi-hwa Choi plays a homeless man; Yong Suk (Kim Eui-Sung), an older businessman; Jung Suk-Yong, the engineer; and Jin Hee (Ahn So-Hee) and Young Gook (that sounds horrible, but I double-checked it) (Choi Woo-Sik) as the millionaire and his wife, or maybe they are the young baseball player and cheerleader. Like its sub-genre predecessors Horror Express (1972) and Snowpiercer (2013), the plot is pretty predictable: something drives them further and further toward one end of the train, and one-by-one, well, you get it and some of them get it. It is difficult for any zombie film in this particular zombie cycle we are in to prove itself unique, but what should be a formulaic story in Train to Busan feels more like a big movie. What the hell do I mean by that? If someone I knew told me they were making a movie about zombies on a train, I would imagine a low budget movie shot on an actual set with completely enclosed interiors with no windows and with only the opening and closing scenes shot exteriors. I think I just described Snakes on a Train (2006), which is my point really. Director Yeon Sang-Ho did just the opposite. Train to Busan does open and close with mainly exterior shots, huge shots of cityscapes too, but we also get exterior shots on the news that our survivors are watching, and we especially see the exterior as the characters, uhm, character on the train. We see the exterior background speeding by sometimes, but mostly we see it filled with zombies in general, zombies attacking people outside, or zombie jump scares, and they utilize that mini-space of the windows a bit like movies themselves. It’s not just empty space, nor does it look green-screened, and I was not expecting this. They also get the cameras outside sometimes where we watch the action inside. While my earlier manifest of survivors illuminates its cookie cutter character types, the acting certainly is not cookie cutter. Everybody here is pushing their weight, doing their job; not a bad acting job in the bunch, though I feel torn about Su-An played by Kim Su-An whose presence sometimes feels like a device to pull the heartstrings, if her incredible acting did not counter that completely. I mean, her acting—her fear, her tears—her acting is so good I want to call child services, because it is literally the in- of incredible. But equal kudos goes to the director for doing the job we sometimes forget directors do, actually working with the actors to create the characters. Train to Busan is exactly the scale at which World War Z (2013) should have been made, though I hate to mention such a sorry adaptation of the perfect zombie novel by Max Brooks, the son of parody-master Mel Brooks. My friend Bob watched this with me, and it was him or maybe it was someone else who saw allusions to World War Z especially in one scene, which I do not want to spoil, but it looks to me like they merely did it better. Hint: it is at the end as the survivors escape the station at Busan. A small theme of corporate greed persists throughout, but it’s just an idea, not fleshed out, or maybe not unfleshed out enough—zombie joke. The elements of this thread do not make enough connections for us to say anything else but what I already implied: corporate greed sucks. I can never remember who said one of my favorite quotes, and each time I try to look it up I can’t find it. Probably some multiverse mixup, but the quote is “The movie is over when the monster is dead.” Train to Busan has two endings for this reason, but they are acceptable, and the plant where Su-An messed up the song she sang on video for her dad is paid off here, but by now that was ages ago; especially for a movie shy of two hours by two minutes. I want to champion this film. I want to make people want to see it. It’s worth the time, the ticket price, the rental, and some popcorn, maybe some Milk Duds. At the same time, however, I am becoming a little burnt out by the zombie genre. We are in a similar cycle we were in during the Western film cycle that ended with Blazing Saddles (1974). That’s two references to Mel Brooks in one article. Granted, there may not be quite that many zombie films, but at least the Western had more possibilities. It doesn’t help that a theory I used to joke about is becoming all too real to me. Theories exist as to why the Western was so popular in that particular time period. Answers relate it to American urbanization, industrialization, and a positive post World War II mentality in American culture. What does the zombie film represent culture-wise then? Why are they a “thing” right now? A metaphor is at work here, regardless of your viewpoint—right versus left, rich versus poor, religious versus non-religious, straight-people-who-just-don’t-get-it versus people-of-various-other-sexual-proclivities-and-the-straight-people-who-are-cool-with-that—each side feels like the survivors battling the brain-dead hordes who want to turn them into something they do not want to be turned into. This is just driving me crazy so that it’s all I see any more upon watching zombie movies or sometimes just the news. Overall Train to Busan is a great film. I know reading this review it doesn’t appear to be my view. I think it would have been a bigger hit ten years ago, and I might like it more as the years go by, but as a zombie film, while it suffers from simple plot and characters, it also succeeds for what it does with that plot and those characters. As Korean films go, it’s going to be on top lists for a long time to come. As a first live action film from Sang-ho Yeon it’s a nigh perfect film. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.