Train to Busan, 2016
Written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon
Starring Yoo Gong, Dong-seok Ma, Yu-mi Jeong, Eui-sung Kim, Soo-an Kim, Sohee
While a zombie-virus breaks out in South Korea, a couple of passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968, which means zombies have been a part of cinema history for nearly 50 years and we’ve seen them go through a lot of changes. We’ve seen them go from shuffling lumps to flesh to sprinting terrors. We’ve seen them used in comedies, action and drama, and we’ve even seen them used as romantic leads. So it’s amazing to think that in 2016 – considering the amount of zombie movies that come out each and every year – that someone can bring something new and fresh to the genre without relying on a story gimmick. Director Sang-ho Yeon has done this with Train to Busan. Not only is easily the best zombie movie of the year, it could be one of the best ever made.
Train to Busan sets itself apart from other zombie movies by making it less about ‘cool kills with blood and gore’ and instead matter of survival. Our heroes don’t attack the zombies unless needed, it’s about avoidance. It also adds an extra element of drama when the characters discover the zombies can’t see in the dark, leading to some amazingly simple but incredibly effective timed sequences going through tunnels. Yeon crafts an exceptional film with impeccable direction, as Train to Busan is the most white-knuckle and taught zombie movie in a number of years.
Every scene serves a purpose, every moment is there for a reason and not a single action beat fails. Everything within Train to Busan is incredible. The performances from every single member of the cast are fantastic, with Yoo Gong’s journey from being the worst father of the year to daughter’s hero being one of the film’s shining moments. The young Soo-an Kim is equally as good as her on-screen father if not better, and there is a really bright future ahead of her. It would be easy to say that Dong-seok Ma is the star of the show as he’s given all the best lines and moments, but that would be taking away from the other great performances on show. Even lesser roles like Sohee’s Jin-Hee are given incredibly emotional moments. Yeon’s script, like any good zombie movie, is littered with very likeable characters that you grow attached to and want to see survive. They might even be the most likeable ever committed to screen.
And even though Train to Busan is more about sneaking around and less about attacking does not mean its light on action. Yeon’s zombies are so terrifyingly frenetic in the way they run and move, and the way they climb onto top or over each other in order to get to the living adds an extra element of dread as the heroes try to get away. Very few zombie movies get across the monster’s need and desire to spread an infection, and there have been even less that have zombies as scary as this. They’re less concerned with eating flesh, they just want to turn the living into the non-living. That’s a terrifying prospect. There’s a sequence in the middle of the movie where a group try to navigate through several carriages and each one is more ramped up than the last. They’re some of the most intense scenes put in a zombie movie, and those are just the tip of the iceberg.
While they’re not focused upon, Train to Busan also features the customary ‘zombies as an allegory’ trope. There’s social commentary made about corporate greed and how those who sign the paperwork don’t think about the little people. There’s a class war issue that runs throughout the movie, and a deep theme of looking out for others in the face of a crisis. An argument could be made that Train to Busan is Yeon’s commentary on the role men play in Korean families, constantly working to provide for their families but not getting recognition for it. Yeon seamlessly weaves these into his plot, and there aren’t ham-fisted scenes where the character sit around and explain them – it’s all done through action and visuals.
It seems that every time a good zombie movie comes out, it’s hailed as one of the best ever made. Shaun of the Dead was given that accolade, as was Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead. But Train to Busan stands head and shoulders above all contenders. It’s an incredible movie that gets every single element right. It’s emotional, heart-breaking, terrifying and utterly enthralling. This is horror filmmaking at its finest.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.