Train to Busan, 2016.
Directed by Sang-ho Yeon
Starring Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Ma Dong-seok, Yu-mi Jeong, Woo-sik Choi, Sohee, Eui-sung Kim
In a viral outbreak afflicted South Korea, a group of passengers attempt to stay alive on the train from Seoul to Busan…
Long distance train journeys are pretty frustrating at the best of times. Crap wi-fi coverage, uncomfortable seats if you can find one, undrinkable coffee; the list goes on and on. Let’s face it, adding a horde of marauding zombies could almost be seen as something of a relief from the unremitting tedium of staying awake for the last stretch…
Thankfully, Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan shares none of the failings of regular cross country rail services. Serving up a classic horror concoction of non-stop action alongside socio-political allegory, the film manages to inject some fresh new life into a horror sub-genre that has recently become over-exposed and under-developed. This is a film that builds on its straightforward concept to incorporate smart humour, jump scares and apocalyptic horror. Unlike say, 2013’s Korean sci-fi train epic Snowpiercer, it is all done without any pretension to art-house sensibilities and keeps a clear head for the serious business of zombie mayhem. However, far from being just another throwaway infected flick, the film gradually draws its audience in to feeling genuine sympathy for (most) of the passengers on board and succeeds in crafting a high-octane adventure with something to say beyond the screaming.
Morbidly funny to begin with and gradually becoming more profound as it moves on, the film focuses on the passengers of the high-speed bullet train from Seoul to Busan as they attempt to stay alive. Among those on the train are the recently divorced Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) and his daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) who are desperate to reach Busan to see her mother. These two are joined by a small group of uninfected including the impressive Ma Dong-seok as a likable but quick-tempered man devoted to protecting his pregnant wife.
As the struggle for survival goes on, this group, also including a pair of young lovers and two elderly sisters, becomes split from another collection of characters who are also battling the infected in a different part of the train. This other group counts a ruthless unscrupulous businessman at its head, and the fight for moral judgments and doing what’s right on a human level is at the film’s heart.
It is really the young father’s internal quest to protect his daughter while struggling with his own problems that brings the film onto another level of enjoyment. A raw emotional underbelly becomes ever more exposed, until the audience experiences a heartfelt message to trust and love. It’s a difficult pitch to get right and one that could have stumbled if dealt with in a more po-faced manner, but happily Sang-ho Yeon gets it just right. Mixing up impressions from movies as diverse as The Raid, 28 Days Later and Night of the Living Dead, this is a beautifully crafted mix of horror and sociological morality play. All in all though, it is pure entertainment with a side-order of allegory. Go for the scares and stay for the ideas.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.