It took me longer than it really should have to get around to seeing Train to Busan, and it wasn’t until I finally sat down to watch it that I realised how big a mistake that wait was. I’m a huge fan of zombie apocalypse films and when the first trailer dropped I was hooked. Then as tends to be the case, life happens, and it fell off my radar.
It wasn’t until a friend posted they’d bought a copy that I hunted it down on cable TV. Train to Busan was everything I hoped it would be and more. It hits all the right marks when it comes to horror, action-thriller, and zombies. It’s a slow burn at the beginning, introducing the main characters, setting up the premise and foreshadowing the virus that will come to destroy South Korea, but it soon kicks up the pace and ramps the tension.
SPOILER ALERT IN ALL ITS SPOILERY-NESS. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK.
Now before I go on, I’ve said before that I’m no movie aficionado – I just know what I like. So it’s on that alone I’m basing my review. Alrighty then, let’s get this show on the road… or tracks…
Train to Busan follows the story of Seok-woo, a divorced fund manager who works long hours while trying to raise his daughter, Soo-an. For her birthday, she finally convinces him to take her to see her mother in Busan. He doesn’t want to go, but his mother convinces him he must take her (just an aside, the last phonecall between the two is very cool). On the drive to the station, it’s clear some major shit is going down ‒ ambulances and fire trucks are screaming past ‒ but the pair seem relatively safe. Once on the train, however, and just as the doors are closing, a young woman stumbles into one of the carriages with a bite wound to her leg.
And so begins the journey.
We’re introduced to the rest of the cast – a married couple expecting their first child, a baseball player and his cheerleader love interest, two elderly sisters (brilliantly played), a rich CEO, and the train driver (minor though his role is, hero he remains).
It doesn’t take long for the infection and the attacks to begin, slowly working their way through the carriages. These zombies are hard-core eating machines that move with speed, and in the confines of a train make survival all the more difficult. It soon becomes clear to those on the train that some bad, bad shit is going down outside, although most are unaware of the infection spreading inside, pretty much until it’s too late.
While most of the film takes place on the train, one pit-stop at a purported safe zone doesn’t end well for a lot of the passengers. Numbers are whittled, and characters are separated‒ Seok-woo from his daughter, husband and pregnant wife, the sisters, and the baseball player and his new girlfriend. They have to fight through a number of zombie-infested carriages to reach their loved ones.
There’s something about horror set on trains that amps up tension – confined spaces, no way to get off, not in control of your destination. The claustrophobic feel of it lends itself well, and here is no different. It also brings out the true nature of the passengers, and what some will do in their quest for survival. Do you try to save who you can? Or, do you sacrifice others for your own survival? We see both sides of this with the remaining characters, and there are some brilliant scenes that showcase the decisions the characters make.
The two elderly sisters’ relationship is one of the most touching. Grouchy and sarcastic with each other, they are the most fun to watch, which makes the death of one (watched in all its gory glory) so traumatic. It’s here we really see the choices made, and the surviving sister understanding the wrongness of kicking uninfected passengers out of a safe carriage, sets things (almost) right.
Sacrifice is the name of the game here, and it’s not until very close to the end that we understand Seok-woo (and his company) are the harbingers of what is happening. There are no happy endings here. There is survival, but at what cost? And it’s that social commentary, woven expertly through the storyline without it being didactic, that gives Train to Busan its heart.
For those of you who balk at foreign-language films because you think subtitles take away from your viewing pleasure, put that aside and watch this movie. I had (and have) no issues with it, and it in no way lessened my appraisal. Director Yeon Sang-ho delivered a film that entertains and makes you think, it makes you question: what would I do? The zombies are fast and voracious, single-mindedly focussed on “food”, and damn well everywhere. Excellent stuff.
For me, it’s one of the better zombie movies I’ve seen in a very long time, and if you haven’t got around to seeing it, you really should make the effort.
I give it 9 out of 10.