STARRING: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee, Choi Gwi-hwa, Jung Suk-yong, Ye Soo-jung, Park Myung-sin, Jang Hyuk-jin, Kim Chang-hwan and Shim Eun-kyung
While a zombie-virus breaks out in South Korea, a couple of passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
Train To Busan has us follow Seok-Woo, a divorced fund manager who begrudgingly accepts to take his young daughter Su-an to her mother in Busan as her birthday gift. They arrive at a station in Seoul to board the KTX, a High-Speed rail, which is also occupied by working-class husband Sang-hwa and his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong, a high school baseball team, rich but selfish COO Yon-suk, elderly sisters In-gil and Jong-gil, and a homeless man. Unfortunately for them however, someone else boards the train that happens to be have been bitten and is beginning to turn, leading to a struggle of survival for those on board the train heading to Busan.
Train To Busan is a South Korean zombie apocalypse thriller from director Sang-ho Yeon, who has directed animated features such as The Fake and The King of Pigs. The film focuses on a working father that begrudgingly grants his young daughters birthday wish of taking her to Busan to see her mother. As they board the high-speed KTX train from Seoul to Busan however, a young woman boards the train with a bite wound on her leg that leads to a zombie plague spreading like wildfire amongst the passengers on the train.
Train To Busan keeps itself as self-contained as possible, having us focusing on Seok-woo and young Su-an and a number of passengers on board the train and making a few stops at railway stations. The train setting plays tremendously to the films strengths as we get a blend of Snowpriercer meets the 28 Days Later/World War Z fast-style zombies within a confined, claustrophobic environment and characters make some pretty smart choices to get around the horde inside the train. The main arc we follow in the film is that of workaholic father Seok-Woo and his less than impressed daughter Soo-an, who has a few choices words to say about him whenever shit hits the fan and he tries to set a route for only them to escape. ‘At a time like this, look out for yourself,’ he tells her at one point, to which she responds, ‘You only care about yourself.’ Seok-Woo’s character progression is one of the films strengths, with Gong Yoo providing a good performance in the role. Kim Su-an on the other hand becomes a revelation towards the final act of the film, providing one of those moments where I was transported out of the film for a second and thought ‘she isn’t acting’. From the supporting cast, the parents-to-be Sang-hwa and Seong-kyeong, played by Ma Dong-seok and Jung Yu-mi, are interesting enough characters to care what happens to them, particularly with the former carrying a certain charming presence when he’s on screen. When it comes to these sort of films, there’s usually one human that will go full-on meltdown and sacrifice others so that he can save himself and Kim Eui-sung plays that role tremendously well to the point you really hope he suffers a horrible death. Within the zombie mayhem, there’s some social commentary to be found here, with Seok-Woo’s job title (Fund Manager) has him labelled as a bloodsucker who leeches off others, to passengers witnessing the ‘riots’ from their seats on the television screens with one of the elderly sisters sneering, ‘People today riot over anything, in the old days they’d be re-educated’. The distrust towards the Government’s lack of being honest with the public doesn’t help matters as an authority figures appears on TV and tells the people of Korea to ‘Stay calm and trust the Government, we believe your safety is not in jeopardy’, as passengers on board the train view videos of zombies falling from the sky and attacks on the streets. It’s when a bit of scaremongering from Yong-suk creates a terrified and selfish mob, which leads to one of the films most strongest moments. It’s a very well directed film from Yeon Sang-ho, with some great make-up work and the special effects for the mega-zombie horde is well done.
While I did get a kick out of Train For Busan, it does have a few faults. The final act goes all out for the melodramatic, right down to the piano score which will either work for you or not. Yong-suk’s is such a detestable character, personally I feel like he doesn’t get the punishment he deserves. Other supporting characters that get some screen time here are High School baseball player Yong-gook and his girlfriend Jin-hee, played by Choi Woo-sik and Ahn So-hee, and I just didn’t care for these characters at all. Those looking for well fleshed out characters and answers to the zombie outbreak may not be satisfied with what they find here, as the majority of the characters are cliches.
It may follow the same beats of zombie films before it, but Train To Busan manages to be innovative and provide fresh ideas to the zombie genre, creating a character arc that had me invested in to the end credits. Some good visual effects work on the zombie horde, in and outside of the train, as well as enough characters to root to survive, had me enjoy the film. I’m sure Hollywood will have paid attention to Train To Busan and now have it within their five-year-plan to remake it (USA coast-to-coast train rail exists right?). 8/10