Train to Busan (Bu-san-haeng): Movie Review

train-to-busan1This film’s been showing in cinemas for two weeks already before I finally got on the train (pun intended) to Busan along with millions of fans who were bowled over by this South Korean zombie movie and I totally get the hype. It was one thrill ride (again, pun intended, I’m on a roll here) that deserved the accolades that it received from the international media.

Workaholic fund manager Seok-woo (Gong-yoo) sets out for Busan to grant the wish of his daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) to visit his ex-wife for her birthday. However, just as the train departs, chaos ensues as an injured woman begins to attack and infect train passengers with something that makes them behave like zombies. As the remaining passengers of the train try to survive, Seok-woo must try to protect his daughter at all cost and deliver her to Busan, which remains safe against the outbreak.

Train to Busan reminds me a lot about Snakes on a Plane, a movie that was propelled to a pop culture icon status because of word of mouth. On the surface, it employs a similar formula. People are stuck in an enclosed space (plane vs train) fighting off a threat to their safety (snakes vs zombies) with lead characters who think quickly on their feet. In these types of movies, there’s always a resident douchebag — in this case its selfish CEO Young Suk, played by Kim Ui-Seong. There’s also a strong supporting cast in burly but kindhearted soon to be daddy Sang-hwa (Ma-Deong Seok), his wife Sung Geong (Jung Yu-Mi), Sohee as Jin-hee, Choi Woo Shik as baseball player Young Gook and Choi Gwi Hwa as the homeless man.

As in the case of zombie apocalypse movies, there’s always the question of retaining one’s humanity and compassion in the face of a grave threat to one’s safety. How far would one go to ensure the future of the one that you love? This was basically the underlying message of the story amid the zombie apocalypse that was the rest of the movie.

I liked the fact that the film took the time to tell the stories of the characters amid the chaos and was able to repair the damaged relationship of a father and a child in the space of two hours of mayhem. I liked that the love of a father for a daughter who is yet to be born was clearly conveyed by a heavy sacrifice. Even the douchebag’s douchebaggery was somehow explained towards the end which gave him an ounce of humanity (ironic that this happened as he was about to turn) that audiences would understand even a bit.

The main strength of Train to Busan, in my opinion, was not just that it was able to pull off the zombie trope successfully.  It was able to humanize an otherwise generic horror genre. Koreans are very good with the delivery of dramatic scenes and one of the final scenes of Gong Yoo, a popular K-drama actor and child actress Kim Su-an was so raw that it would melt the heart of the even the most unfeeling of persons.

In terms of execution, Train to Busan was made all the more exciting by the fact that the group was faced with no ordinary zombies — they were fast, resilient and smarter than your typical Walking Dead walker. They attack in swarms and and they multiply easily. Think World War Z. They are definitely the worst kinds of adversaries. I was at the edge of my seat the whole time, too caught up with the close calls to even blink.

In terms of growth, the film also played it smart by teasing the origin of the virus but not fully exploring the source. This gives the film more room to expand the franchise for a prequel, or a sequel much like the Resident Evil movies depending on the audience’s reception. Based on initial feedback, it seems that a sequel is indeed being worked out.

All in all, director Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan was a well executed zombie movie that offered more than the usual scares. It adds value to the genre by appealing to the emotions of the audience, making it more effective than expected. The good news is its still showing in some cinemas so its not yet too late to catch the last trip. Sorry, I’ll stop with these puns now and leave you to decide how to feel about it.

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