Confession #1: I am burned out on zombie films. Though popular, recent efforts like “The Walking Dead”and “World War Z“ simply haven’t resonated with me. Both hyped to the point of fatigue and often dreadfully mediocre, the genre has become impotent from overexposure.
However, there is always an exception to the rule.
Confession #2: “Train to Busan” is a stunner. Itis not only a terrific zombie film; it is a terrific film, period.
“Train to Busan”is a South Korean picture directed by Yeon Sang-Ho. It follows the story of a Seok Woo (Yoo Gong), a fund manager and negligent father. To make up for missing a school function, he agrees to take his daughter by train to visit the child’s mother, his estranged wife. Shortly after boarding, the train falls under siege by hordes of vicious zombie-like humans. The two encounter friends and foes — and plenty of teeth-gnashing zombies — on their way to what they believe is the safety of the Southern resort town Busan.
This is an anxious, tension-filled movie. And yes, it has plenty of scares. But that isn’t what makes it great. What differentiates “Train to Busan”are moments, big and small, that ultimately make it such a rich viewing experience. Small comments and glances are important and pay off to varying degrees later in the picture. Other more obvious attitudes and actions first broadly define a character before a heroic or dastardly deed flips the viewers’ interpretation of them.
Two key characters that are introduced on the train are a married couple. The young wife is pregnant. The husband is an arrogant blowhard. He comes off selfish and cocky. He is a prime example of a character broadly defined early one only to become redefined as the plot unfolds.
Choices matter in this film. Characters do things despite being afraid. Those who make the “right” choices aren’t always rewarded, but neither are those who choose the opposite. The stakes and consequences are such that viewers become invested in even minor characters because the director had the foresight to make them pop and bring them to life. Another film would have left them generic and disposable, generating equally bland results.
The Good Stuff
Ok, so enough with all that analytical mumbo-jumbo. This movie rocks. It is a blood-soaked shot of adrenaline. About 90 percent of the film takes place on a speeding train filled with zombies. Even the “down” scenes have a franticness about them because of that.
The zombies are portrayed as rabid and snarling. There is a visceral rage about them. There are some great scares and “oh no” moments, but it’s the panicked energy of the film that is ultimately so intoxicating.
“Train to Busan”is great in a way that American horror films don’t even aspire to be. The characters and relationships are fleshed out and dimensional. Director Yeon Sang-Ho effectively translates the pain and peril of both the fear and reality that posed by infection.
This is a rare example of a movie that has depth and pathos but is also a ton of fun. It is chock full of scares, blood, and juicy tension, yet is about sacrifice and family. It’s about what it means to be father. What it means to be a man. Movies like that usually suck. This one doesn’t.
If you like blood and action and scares, you will like this movie.
If you like good, well-crafted films, you will like this movie.
“Train to Busan”is one of the most successful films in the history of South Korean cinema for a reason. I can’t recommend this one enough.