It’s not too often that I leave a movie wishing it had been longer, but oh how I wanted “Train to Busan” to go on for at least another hour. Maybe two hours. This is one of the most well made, exciting, emotionally engaging zombie movies I’ve seen, and it’s a must-see (in particular) for fans of the genre.
This South Korean zombie horror thriller is best described as a mash-up of “Snakes On A Plane,” “28 Days Later,” and “Snowpiercer.” Most of the action takes place on a crowded bullet train, creating an ideal sense of urgency with an overly claustrophobic setting for a zombie epidemic. The train is a safe place from the terror that’s consuming the rest of the country, but of course an infected person makes their way onboard: and all hell soon breaks loose. The idea of a zombie outbreak onboard a packed train is one that doesn’t exactly cover much new ground, but it’s a highly entertaining concept and is exceptional throughout in both storytelling and filmmaking.
The frentic story is skillfully realized through thrilling action sequences from director Sang-ho Yeon. Not only is the film exciting, but it’s also visually impressive and looks and feels gorgeous — not an easy feat when things start going from bad to worse. Much worse.
What makes this movie work is that it’s genuinely emotionally charged. I was fully invested in all of these characters, none of which come across as mere disposable caricatures. Every passenger we meet feels authentic and sympathetic, making every unpredictable and shocking plot twist all the more distressing. There were plenty of times where I had a physical reaction, either by audibly gasping or feeling as if I had been punched in the gut. I give an enormous amount of respect to the actors here; they are accomplished across the board and their work in this film is truly exceptional.
Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) is a divorced dad accompanying his daughter Soo-an (the phenomenal Soo-an Kim) to see her estranged mother. Rounding out the group of survivors are a teenage athlete (Woo-sik Choi) and his girlfriend (Sohee), a selfish businessman (Eui-sung Kim), alpha male Sang (Dong-seok Ma) and his pregnant wife Sung (Yu-mi Jeong). This makes for an eclectic, engaging group of strangers that are forced to band together in order to persevere in their new world reality.
There’s a not-so-subtle message reminding us to be kind to each other and the film touches on mild political commentary about Korea’s class system, but it never once feels preachy. It’s a fast-packed, tightly crafted, bloody tale of redemption in the face of a total loss of humanity.
This is international cinema at its finest, and “Train to Busan” ranks among the very best in the zombie genre.
I thought the zombie horror-thriller had been done to death. With “Train to Busan,” Korean filmmaker Sang-ho Yeon conclusively proves that there’s still life in the genre.
Easily the best zombie movie since “28 Days Later”, “Train to Busan” opens with hedge fund adviser and father Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) trying his best to avoid having to deal with his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) on her birthday. Seok is a bit of an a**hole, both in business and in his personal life. It’s only when Soo-an tells her father that the only thing she wants for her birthday is to go to the city of Busan to be with her mother that Seok finally relents and agrees to take her there by train.
Moments after the train pulls out of the station, the entire country quickly erupts into chaos as a mysterious disease causes a massive zombie outbreak. As the virus spreads on the train, compartment-by-compartment, Seok, Soo-an, and their fellow surviving passengers (including the amazing Dong-seok Ma) must figure out how to contain the virus on the train and, eventually, fight their way through car after car filled with zombies.
What makes “Train to Busan” great isn’t that it’s new and different; it isn’t. There isn’t much in “Train to Busan” that you haven’t seen before. Why the movie succeeds – often spectacularly so – is that it’s a particularly effective and seamless mash-up of other films that improves on much of its inspirational source material. “28 Days Later” is well-represented, but so are “World War Z,” “I Am Legend,” “REC,” and non-zombie movies like “Snowpiercer” and “The Mist.”
Director Yeon is especially effective at his use of space; although most (but not all) of the action is confined to the titular train, the movie continues to evolve and use that environment in new and different ways that never get repetitive. As with most well-done zombie pictures, the film’s best moments are born from the relationships between the characters, which are exceptionally well-developed.
“Train to Busan” is without question one of the best genre films of the year. You should make a point of seeing it.