Train to Busan, 2017.
Directed by Yeon Sang Ho.
Starring Gong Yo, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Ma Dong-seok, and Choi Woo-shik.
A workaholic father attempts to reconnect with his estranged daughter while on a train to Busan. As the two board the train, a zombie apocalypse suddenly erupts turning the pair’s journey into a fight for survival.
Happy Halloween everyone!
Well, we’ve reached the end of another year of October Horrors and quite a year it’s been. We’ve looked at sorts of horrors this year ranging from vampires, zombies (of both running and shuffling variety), ghosts, hell portals, nuclear war and most terrifying of all; Keanu Reeve’s ‘English’ accent. Suffice to say, this year we’ve looked at a rich variety of things keep us awake for a few nights.
So to wrap up my another year of spotlighting all things the bright and beautiful that horror has to offer I’ve picked a film that out of the 31 I watched this year stood out as my possibly my personal favourite.
For our final entry this year, we’re hopping over to South Korea to take a look at the critically acclaimed zombie apocalypse thriller Train to Busan, a film that you really should just go and watch now instead of reading my review.
For those who insist on reading my ramblings (soon to be a blog coming near you) let’s take a trip into the modern day masterpiece that is Train to Busan.
What makes Train to Busan such a brilliant experience is that instead of pacing itself like many horror thrillers, director Yeon Sang Ho instead decides to pace his zombie apocalypse in a fashion more akin to an action film.
Instead of the usual slow ominous build-up followed by a jump scare, we get a slow but brief build-up followed by a slew of fast-paced action set pieces in which our heroes find themselves faced with yet another obstacle to fight. It’s this pacing that keeps the film flying past at a furious speed, with each set piece being just long enough to keep you enthralled but not so long that you become bored with the carnage.
While the film is loaded with action, it still offers us just enough of a rest bite between set pieces to allow for moments of character development to seep through so that we can come to care for the film’s core band of characters.
These set pieces are also a demonstration one of the best combinations of horror and action ever attempted in film, with the film featuring far too many stand out moments to count, ranging from the initial outbreak on the train (easily one of the most intense beginnings to a zombie film ever) to an arse clinchingly tense tunnel sequence in which our heroes attempt to sneak past the undead hordes in the dark.
The setting is also what makes the film so masterful, with the carriages of the train feeling like genuinely claustrophobic death traps, especially when they very quickly begin to fill up with snarling zombies, coupled by the fact that there is only so far you can run before you’re trapped at the mercy of the hordes.
While the action sequences are enough to make the film a good one, what makes it a brilliant one is how the film manages to keep the action from overshadowing the characters and their stories. It’s primarily thanks to the brilliant performances of the cast that you come to care for these characters so deeply and it’s also due to the actors that when some of them meet their inevitable end that you do feel a genuine sense of loss.
Leading the cast is Gong Yo as Seok-woo, an overworked fund manager whose work has led to him becoming emotionally distant from his young daughter. Yo’s performance is brilliant in the way that he manages to toy and change with the audience’s opinion of the character throughout the film. Initially, I honestly didn’t like the character, finding him just a tad cold and unfeeling, especially when it came to his child who he almost seemed to view as a burden on his busy work life. However, as the film goes on and Gong takes on the mantle of reluctant action hero and shows himself willing to risk his life to save others I found myself rooting for him and cheering him on as he saves the day.
Supporting Yo is a great cast, some of whom deserves particular praise, such as young Kim Su-an as Seok-woo’s daughter Su-an, with the young actress managing to be an especially likeable and sympathetic character that the viewer, like her father, feels somewhat protective of and desperate to get to Busan to see her mother. I also have to praise Kim Eui-Sung whose terrific performance somehow manages to take the classic “zombie film arsehole” to a whole new level of douchebaggery, while also making his cowardice somewhat understandable.
For me though, the best performance and character of the whole film is the magnificent Ma Dong-seok as Sang-hwa, the toughest man in all of South Korea. A man who treats the zombie apocalypse as just another pain in the arse to sort out.
Dong-seok is simply amazing, bringing a level of cool-headed authority to the role, along with some genuinely funny banter with his co-stars whose company he seems not to care much for but whose help he comes to rely upon. However, it’s in the action scenes where Dong-seok shines managing to make caving zombies skulls in look easy and almost artful, a sight made even more glorious because he does most of it with his BARE F**KING HANDS! If the zombie apocalypse ever does come, give this man some knuckle dusters and sit back and watch the magic happen.
The film while a fun action-packed horror thrill ride also has the usual zombie film subtext hiding beneath the chaos, at least that’s what I picked up on. The film seems to have moments political satire, such as a government spokesmen telling the people “everything is under control” when it clearly isn’t, something that given South Korea’s recent political scandals packs a nice little satirical punch.
At its core though, the film is about the love between father and daughter as shown between Seok-woo and Su-an, with the relationship between the two a subtle commentary about the sacrifices that fathers sometimes have to make for their families. It’s the relationship between the two that gives the film it’s emotional centre and by the time the film reaches its end, it’s honestly a rather emotional and moving moment that might have a few viewers near tears. Not me though. Nope no tears from me. Shut up. I just have something in my eyes.
As you can tell by how long I’ve rambled in this review, Train to Busan is one that comes highly recommended. A tightly paced, action packed and surprisingly emotional horror masterpiece that is easily one of the best zombie films of this decade (possibly ever) and is easily one of the best films that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching in the nearly 3 years I’ve done this series. Check this one out and then tell your friends about it and then watch it again.
Thanks once again for joining me on yet another year of October Horrors, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these reviews as much as I’ve had writing them.
I do hope you’ll join me again for October Horrors 2019, unless my flickering overlords have seen sense and fired me by that point, but feel free to leave suggestions for future reviews in the comments. Also feel free follow me on Twitter at Graeme Robertson@robertsong93 if you wish to send your suggestions/hate mail to me directly.
Till then I wish you all a very safe and happy Halloween.
Scare Rating: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★