Train To Busan

Adel Gabot

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6:35AM

Curious film. Korean movies aren’t usually known for their apocalyptic zombie epics, and are more popular for their esoteric, mysterious little ghost stories when talking about supernatural films. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a zombie holocaust movie from Korea.

Yet here we are.

Train To Busan (Busanhaeng in the original Korean) is kind of a combination of the American Dawn of The Dead (the remake, not the original) and their own Snowpiercer (by director Bong Joon-Ho). It’s the story of a father and daughter who are traveling by bullet train to Busan when the zombie epidemic hits, and how they try to survive until they get to their destination, a city (they think) has survived the catastrophe.

Director Yeon Sang-Ho crafts a compelling and absorbing thriller that, when it finally grabs you by the balls (around the 20th minute mark), refuses to let go until the spectacular denoeument. His particular brand of zombie is the fast-sprinting, spry Zack Snyder-type, and not at all like the slow-moving and lumbering George Romeros. In fact, they’re so agile they achieve a sort of cartoony, Looney Tunes type quality, and you’d laugh if they weren’t so horrible.

Along the way you meet the usual survivor archetypes: the wiseass-but-kind-hearted husband and his pregnant wife, the hobo with a heart of gold, the lovey-dovey pair of teenagers, the evil train executive who’ll do anything to survive, a pair of affectionate old spinster sisters and a host of other hapless characters. Hapless, because, as most Korean movies go, most of these characters are going to meet a grisly end. No surprise there.

How the zombie infection spreads is kind of surprising—it’s damned fast. Just one bite, and it takes just a minute or two before you start convulsing and eventually turn. Or you even don’t have to get bitten; in the opening scene, a truck driver runs down a deer on a deserted road, and a minute later the animal gets up, a deer zombie.

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Gong Yoo plays the young fund manager father who often neglects his kind, sad little daughter, played by Kim Suh-ahn (who are both excellent, by the way), but on her birthday they at least travel so she can see her mother, his estranged ex-wife, in Busan. Unfortunately, the girl’s birthday is also the beginning of the end and the shit hits the fan, so to speak.

Train To Busan takes us on a quiet morning trip that ends up becoming a one way journey to hell. A lot of the movie is running back and forth along the cars, trying to avoid the infected, rabid passengers, and the few terribly unreasonable and paranoid people left behind. Part of it occurs in train stations where they try to stop to see what’s going on, to disastrous results.

The movie goes from set piece to escalating set piece, just leaving little breathers in between that also act as excellent character development scenes, so there’s hardly any wasted screentime. The editing and cinematography are excellent, and the action doesn’t let up either, and for that it’s really a pretty good thriller.

As usual, I’m not going to give any more details other than the wide brush strokes of the plot so as not to spoil it for you in case you plan to see it. All I can say is, this is a very good sign Koreans should make more movies like this. And their trains have wonderfully durable doors.

Four out of five stars.


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