"Train to Busan" Review
A young father named Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) wants to fix his relationship with his little daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an), whom he has neglected a little due to his workaholic obsession as a fund manager. He tries to give her gifts and promises to spend more time with her.
But it's too late: Su-an just wants to go to Busan to see her mother.
Seok-woo has no choice but to fulfill his daughter's wish. While they are heading to the station, their surroundings begin to give a hint of what's coming. Fires and sirens begin to be formed as the Korean morning comes.
A strange erratic woman climbs the train at the last moment, escaping from something. She has a bite.
This is how the Train to Busan begins. As a small microcosm of the same horrendous reality of the rest of the country.
In addition to the father and daughter, we meet other characters. Among them, the burly Sang-Hwa (Ma Dong-Seok), a professional wrestler who is traveling with his delicate pregnant wife Seong-Kyeong (Jung Yu-mi); the young athlete Yong-Guk (Choi Woo-Shik) and the cheerleader Jin-hee (Ahn So-hee) who are traveling with a whole baseball team; the millionaire COO Yon-suk (Kim Eui-sung) and a homeless, nameless man (Choi Gwi-Hwa).
It's inevitable not to grasp the not-so-subtle social commentary of Train to Busan. The social warfare represented by those who fall victim to the zombies first and those who, thanks to their contacts, personal preparation, information and sometimes absolute cruel selfishness, manage to live longer. All social sectors, professions, and genres seem to be represented—by big brushstrokes—in the different wagons of the train.
And in that same aspect, it's inevitable to think of another film directed by a Korean, Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer. Train to Busan doesn't have the surreal and sometimes cartoonish atmosphere of that film, but the idea of using a moving train where human beings prey on each other to survive is a very specific motif to be ignored. There are even a couple of similar gags, such as playing with the lack of lighting when the train goes through tunnels.
It makes sense that the main antagonist is a 1st-class-rider, the rich COO Yon-Suk. He is a detestable character who really hits the mark of being hated by the spectator but who, if we try to be more objective and cold-blooded, only does what the same system has taught him; to survive at all costs, even if it's at the expense of the most dispossessed.
It's an interesting touch that Yon-Suk shows his most human side in the penultimate seconds of his life when everything he has learned as a human no longer has any real value.
And that subject of solidarity vs. selfishness is present in all the characters in one way or another. Seok-woo starts by being selfish, protecting only his daughter, but then finally understand the strength of solidarity. Sang-Hwa (the best character in the film) is not yet a father, but he risks his physical integrity to protect those around him, including his nameless future child. Even the homeless man has a change of attitude when he perceives the importance of working as a team.
That tale of horror and social Darwinism is what makes Train to Busan stand out from the rest of the zombie films. The development of its multiple characters, considering the context, the devilish fast pace, and the short duration, is a feat that shows off the talent of director Yeon Sang-ho and writer Park Joo-suk.
What's Your Rating For Train to Busan?
Sang-ho comes from directing animations based on real-life events like The King of Pigs. It's interesting that this experience has allowed him to create a fictitious live-action film. Sang-ho evidently knows how to balance fantasy and reality very well.
The suffering in Train to Busan can reach unbearable levels. But the characters' reactions to the tragedy feel so genuine that it's impossible to disconnect from the story.
And not everything is crying and drama in Train to Busan. The zombies, whose speed and violence seemed inspired by World War Z, are really a horrendous threat that leaves this film well established in the horror genre. The editing goes at a frantic pace, perhaps emulating its main location.
Because in the end, Train To Busan is exactly that. An emotional journey full of people who want to spend time with their loved ones, in a moving train full of zombies and other monstrous humans.
Title: Train to Busan
Release Year: 2016
Director(s): Sang-ho Yeon
Actors: Yoo Gong, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma, a.o.
© 2019 Sam Shepards