TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
Korean horror/thriller is a fun mash-up of zombie outbreak flick and disaster movie that may be familiar in it’s story elements, but uses them very well. The plot has self absorbed businessman, Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) in the middle of a divorce and taking his young daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an) on an early train to Busan to see her mother. Meanwhile, a leak at the YS Biotech plant starts some kind of viral reaction that turns people into vicious killers who spread the infection through their bite. One of the infected gets on the train and now, while the outbreak spins out of control in the country all around them, the infection starts to spread throughout the cars. Trapped with increasing numbers of the infected onboard, the survivors must battle for their lives against the mindless killers, as well as, the selfish living who would sacrifice others for their own survival. But there is hope, as their destination, the district of Busan, has become one of the only safe havens left…now they must live long enough to get there.
Park Joo-suk’s script is very reminiscent of flicks like 28 Days Later and World War Z with some familiar disaster film elements thrown in, like the pretentious ass (Kim Ui-Seong) who thinks his life is worth more than that of others and the pregnant lady (Jung Yu-mi) fighting for both her and her baby’s survival. But it is Yeon Sang-ho’s tight and skilled direction that takes the routine and familiar elements and really uses them well. He has a background in animated films and this helps him keep the action fast and furious and the film is visually satisfying and very colorful with a surprisingly bright color palette for a zombie film. There is quite a lot of bloodshed, though Sang-ho restricts it to an R-rated level and we don’t get the Romero or even Walking Dead level gore…though the film really doesn’t need it, as tension and suspense are more it’s focus. The director does gives us plenty of that, but doesn’t leave out character development or social commentary, which is added at just the right amounts. The film moves quickly, but does stop to let us catch our breath for a few moments, or to let certain plot points and events resonate. There are a few clever twists, such as the zombies not being able to see in the dark and for his first live action film, Sang-ho does freshen up the many clichés. There are a few slow spots here and there and one element of the climax gets a bit over-sentimental, but otherwise this is a solid thriller with a good cast of characters and high quality production value all around.
With his horde of zombies being very effective, the director does guide his cast of human characters well, too, even if they are mostly all stereotypes. Gong Yoo is the selfish workaholic, Seok-Woo, who has ignored his wife and daughter to the point of divorce and alienation. Obviously, he learns to be more selfless and to be a hero during these dire events. Kim Su-an is very sweet as his neglected daughter and she handles her part very well, being likable and sympathetic without getting in the way or being annoying. She’s a tough and strong-willed kid played by a promising young actress. Jung Yu-mi is the stereotypical pregnant lady, but she gives her Seong-kyeong some fighting spirit and keeps her from being a helpless damsel. Ma Dong-Seok is solid as her husband, Sang-Hwa, the traditional tough guy character who shames the selfish lead into becoming more heroic. Rounding out the main cast is Kim Ui-Seong as a ruthless businessman who thinks he is more important than the others and will risk everyone else to insure his own survival. A very stereotypical character for this kind of film played to perfection by the actor. We hate Yong-suk and want to see him get his. A good cast that add some dimension to characters typical of both the zombie and disaster genres.
One of the benefits of living in an area with a heavy Asian population, aside from the yummy authentic food and great markets, is that my local theater occasionally will play a high-profile Korean film complete with subtitles. I just started hearing good word about this when I noticed it had opened at my favorite movie haunt right here in town. Seeing this in a theater was definitely a plus and despite being very familiar with it’s plot and story elements, a skilled director used them very well and delivered a fast paced and suspenseful flick that overcame familiarity with simple fun. It’s well-crafted and takes itself just serious enough, so we do too. It’s spatters plenty of blood, piles up a significant body count and has enough furious action to be effective despite the heavy ‘been there, done that’. It also does so while delivering some well-rounded characters, stereotypical as they may be. Original?…no. Fun despite being part of an over-saturated genre?…very much so!
MonsterZero NJ Extra Trivia: Star Gong Yoo and actress Jung Yu-mi, who plays the pregnant Seong-kyeong, are actually from Busan, South Korea, the destination for our embattled train passengers.
A solid 3 (out of 4) baseball bats…sadly, the only anti-zombie weapon on a train!
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