Written by J. Weagle
Life or death, survival begins.
If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that the idea of the zombie film has grown incredibly dull over the past decade. Once a hallmark of horror thanks to the likes of George A Romero’s epic dead series of films, it currently finds it self trampled in the never evolving state of basic cable television. Then comes Train to Busan which acts as a shot in the arm that the genre so desperately needed thanks to Korean director Yeon Sang-ho.
The film begins pretty basic, following Seok-woo who happens to be one of those workaholic types. He and his wife are divorced and he spends very little time with his daughter because he is always at the office. The film does a good job of building the relationship between father and daughter, showing how disconnected they are while wasting very little time. Eventually he agrees to take some time away from work to escort his daughter via a high speed train to visit his ex-wife. It doesn’t take long however for things to go from mundane to all out mayhem when an infected passenger bites another passenger spreading a deadly virus throughout the entire train. It’s from here that he must do everything in his power to protect his daughter with a lone group of survivors who are literally on the train ride to hell.
As far as zombie movies go the rules remain the same. If you happen to get bitten by an infected you will immediately turn into a flash eater yourself. If you happen to die by other means you will also return to life. I appreciate that the rules remain the same here, and somewhat believe that at this point in time all (with the exception of a few) zombie films should stick to what I now consider the universal rule of thumb for dealing with the undead, making it not matter what country you are in, fighting the living dead is always the same. As with any zombie film, the effect and look of the zombies can go along way. Here they opted for a more minimalist approach which makes sense, these aren’t rotting corpses they are newly turned, and instead twitch and spasm uncomfortably.
As someone not versed in the Korean language I found the acting overall to be quite fantastic. Yoo Gong (as the father) did a terrific job as both the emotional distant father figure as well as the man who will see no harm come to his daughter in such a dire situation, which is fantastic and really make some horrific scenes later in the film that much more intense. Even the young daughter played by Soo-an did a fantastic job, and really came across as the girl who is forced to act much older then she really is because of her upbringing and not relying of parental figures. There is a whole cast of other colorful and not so colorful characters littered throughout and all act as believable human beings which is really one of the main things that separate Train to Busan from your typical American zombie film.
Train to Busan really came out of nowhere for me, I had heard some good buzz but went in not totally knowing what to expect. What I got was one of the most well crafted zombie films to come along in quite some time, perhaps ever. Thanks to to a claustrophobic confined space (most of the film takes place on the train) and how it plays with the idea of character stereotypes, creating interesting believable people you actually want to root for, and see make it out of such a hellish situation. It’s a fun ride that speeds through like a high speed train feeling very much like being on a roller coaster stopping only briefly to bask in some exposition. Don’t let the language barrier stop you from seeing this film as any fan of the zombie genre will be right at home here.