Zombies. Blech! I am most assuredly not a fan. Not because I find them scary. Quite the opposite, actually. They are insufferable. Not scary and everywhere. Everywhere on television and everywhere in movies. For God’s sake they even merged a Jane Austen novel with zombies. Blasphemy! They are everywhere and rarely menacing and even more infrequently done well. So I went kicking and screaming to this Korean film, Train to Busan, which is essentially a zombie film set on a train. Groan! Boy, was I wrong. It is a great film with amazing zombie special effects and layers of emotion. It is this human element that separates it from your average zombie schlock. Praise be to the director Sang-ho Yeon (Seoul Station) and to the programmers at Fantasia. Colour me a convert.
Amazingly, this is Sang-ho Yeon’s first non-animated feature film. Despite that he shows a deft touch with live action. He handles both the action part and the human element with equal talent. Never does the film seem awkward or forced.
As with most hedge fund managers, Seok Woo (Yoo Gong – Finding Mr. Destiny, Silenced) is completely involved in his work. The result of this is that he and his wife have separated. They have a child named Soo-an (Soo-an Kim – Mad Sad Bad), who he has neglected and she would rather spend her time with her mother. She insists upon returning to her mother in Busan. As such, Seok has to take a morning off work to take her by train to Busan.
They take the KTX, a high speed train, leaving from Seoul to Busan. Right from the get go there is something odd going on. By odd I mean dangerous and by dangerous I mean a zombie outbreak has hit South Korea. Even some of the riders on the train have been infected. The only chance at survival for those on board is getting to Busan where the military are.
This train is filled with loads of very interesting characters. These people are what makes the film better than your average zombie film. A pregnant woman and her charismatic husband. An entire baseball team. Typical working types. Having the bulk of the action happen on a train adds a level of claustrophobia that heightens the tension level. Not many places for the good guys or uninfected to run to. Safe areas don’t really exist.
Zombies are not really that dangerous. They are slow and dumb. Not really that threatening of adversaries. What they have going for them is that they are relentless and usually numerous. In this film they move all crazy like as you would expect. Sometimes their movements are all herky-jerky and comical while others they are typical of the genre. The zombies look great with their milky eyes and visible veins. There are even some twists in these zombies behave in that they seem to only to be able to see in the light. When it becomes dark they pretty much freeze and don’t attack. Unless you make a sound you are safe in the dark.
There is also plenty of social commentary it delves into. The mob mentality that today explodes at any sign of conflict or trouble. How respect is given to people due to their jobs and not their competence. Class and social order are shown to be ridiculous. Clear points are made. Also, how people react in times of crisis.
Emotion filled scenes happen right smack dab in the middle of all the action. As such they are that much more hard hitting and you’ll be surprised to find tears in your eyes. In a zombie move?!? Who would have figured that?!? And yet it happens. Several times. Adds plenty to the overall engagement of the film. Pure entertainment.