Monday, October 2, 2017

31 Days of Horror: Train to Busan

Directed by Yeon Sang-ho.
2016. Rated R, 118 minutes.
Gong Yoo
Kim Su-an
Jung Yu-mi
Ma Dong-seok
Kim Eui-sung
Choi Woo-shik
Ahn So-hee
Choi Gwi-hwa

Highly successful fund manager Seok-woo (Yoo) has reached the heights that he has because he can't help himself. He's a workaholic. That's great for business, but doesn't bode too well for his personal life. So it's no surprise he's divorced. He also has custody of his daughter Soo-an (Su-an). As you might imagine, he's an absentee dad, misses her singing recitals, and has to be reminded that her birthday is tomorrow. Of course, he then goes and buys her the same gift he bought for another holiday earlier in the year. Understandably, Soo-an wants to go see her mother. The problem is this requires an hours-long train ride to the city of Busan. Seok-woo makes himself take the day off to make the trip with her. By itself, this sounds like it could be an interesting exploration of the relationship between a father and daughter. And it is. There's just something else that makes it even more intriguing. A zombie apocalypse is in the midst of breaking out. Yes, one of the infected has managed to get on board the train just as it's leaving the station. Our hero finds himself and his daughter trapped with an assortment of characters while trying not to be eaten and hoping the train finds safe harbor.

Yesterday, I reviewed The Eyes of My Mother. In terms of execution, Train to Busan is the complete opposite of that film. While The Eyes of My Mother is methodical and creepy, Train to Busan races along in the most visceral manner. After the first act sets things up, the film slams it into fifth gear and rarely takes its foot off the gas. Our heroes move from one situation to the next with only the tiniest pockets of down time to catch your breath. And these zombies are fast and ruthless. They are clearly reminiscent of their brethren in 2013's World War Z. However, without the PG-13 rating to hamper them, they are free to conduct their killings in the most vicious way possible. Indeed, blood and guts are the order of the day, as none are spared. To pull us into this nightmare and make it as believable as possible, the cgi (I'm assuming) used to render this is simply phenomenal. You never feel that you're not really looking at a mass of rabid, rapid, living dead trying to get to the living no matter what. The scene of them falling out of helicopters, hitting the ground, and bouncing up to chase people is spectacular. So, too, is the one where dozens of them are hanging off a moving train and trying to climb aboard. It's a visual treat, as long as you don't mind your treats soaked in blood.

Even a film as well put together visually as this would fall flat if the story-telling failed to create tension. Thankfully, that's not the case here. At every turn, we really feel the characters are in danger. That said, it's not a total surprise who lives through this ordeal and who doesn't. The film underscores this by giving us not one, but two of those heroic good-byes movies such as this are fond of giving us. This tactic renders the second a bit less emotional than it's meant to be. In fact, from an emotional standpoint, there are a few places where things feel forced. On the other hand, there are other moments that work exceedingly well. Not surprisingly, many of these come from Seok-woo's dealings with his daughter. However, just as many come from rich guy Yon-suk (Eui-sung), albeit he invokes our anger more than anything else. He does so by playing the CYA game as hard as humanly possible. Kim Eui-sung plays the role and makes his character a memorable guy we love to hate.

The stroke of genius the storytelling pulls off is letting us recognize for ourselves that Yon-suk is really a manifestation of Seok-woo's future. That's the guy he's trending toward becoming. On the other hand, Sang-hwa (Dong-seok) is who the film wants him to become. Sang-hwa is only a working class guy, however he's down-to-earth with a gruff exterior, but is overtly caring about those around him, including his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (Yu-mi). If he can help, he will. It doesn't hurt that he's a fairly sizable guy, too. He gets to be the movie's biggest action hero. He clearly enjoys it, and is a blast to watch and plays a significant role in the proceedings. Perhaps, his most important role is helping us clarify our understanding of the main character. He does this excellently

For all the emotional beats this movie hits upon, it still butters its bread with high octane zombie attacks. They play a large part in keeping us unable to tear our eyes away from the screen. The film sneaks in a lot of its themes because you're distracted from the fact that you're becoming emotionally involved. By the time you figure that out, you've had a great time trying to make it to Busan.

Zombies have attacked this site quite a bit. Check out these 
reviews for proof.


  1. Great review! I ended up liking the movie a lot more than I would have thought. It's an entertaining piece.

  2. Now this is a film that I really, really, really want to see. I've heard so many cool things about it.

  3. I think this might be my new favorite zombie movie. I loved it.

  4. I love how they played out with the zombie apocalypse tropes but ended up making audiences crying in a way a tearjerker does. Definitely one of the best.

  5. Crackerjack film indeed! Loved it, a breath of fresh air into a fairly stale genre of horror; if you get a chance, do check out South Australian-shot zombie flick CARGO when you can - it stars Martin Freeman and features a bunch of people who I know in supporting roles, and had even grown men crying in the audience during it's world premiere last night here. Keep that one on file for later, eh?

    1. That sounds incredibly interesting. I will certainly keep that in mind. And yes, Train to Busan is a crackerjack film.

  6. There aren't a lot of new horror films I'm excited about (Mother! was an exception for its originality). Train to Busan sounds promising. The cgi seems to have been done well here, which is where modern horror often falls flat for me. If I can rent it, I'll give it a watch soon.

    1. I really enjoyed this. If you have Netflix, they're streaming it.