Movie Review: Train to Busan (2016)

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Rating: B+/ Train to Busan delivers on it’s initial promise of being an exhilarating thrill ride and breathing new life into the zombie genre, but it also succeeds at that what you’d least expect- having a surprisingly touching human element. In this South Korean import, Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo,) a workaholic and absentee father, goes on a train journey with his young daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-An) to take her to her mother’s house for her birthday.

In classic deadbeat movie dad style, Seok-Woo always seems to be talking on his cell phone and doesn’t seem to have any clue what his own daughter enjoys. He also is a constant disappointment to the girl, skipping out on an important school event and not managing to relate to her in the least. The shitty dad getting the chance to redeem himself is a common trope, but we can accept it here, because at least it’s well done.

Of all the ways Seok-Woo might have envisioned this train ride with his daughter going wrong, a zombie virus sweeping over the passengers was probably not on his list of concerns. But that’s exactly what happens, and if you can imagine a zombie virus spreading quickly over groups of pedestrians in a city landscape, then it’s safe to say that in an enclosed space like a train, shit goes down a whole lot faster.

Luckily for Seok-Woo, one of the passengers on the train (Ma Dong-Seok) is a bit of a badass, when it comes right down to it, and proves to be a formidable opponent against the hordes of undead. Seok-Woo has never been much of a fighter, but of course he has to adapt quickly in a desperate bid to keep himself and his daughter alive. Train to Busan spends a little bit of time establishing the setting and the characters but when it really gets started, the action rarely relents.

It also provides a little bit of social commentary in the form of showing the variety of way the passengers on the train deal with the extreme nature of their situation, whether it be by teaming up and standing united against a terrifying threat or turning against each other. Train to Busan finds a human villain in Yon-suk (Kim Eui-sung,) a self-serving worm of a businessman who is willing to literally throw survivors to the zombies in order to save his own skin.

I think the movie dropped the ball a little with this character, I found him to sometimes be a little over-the-top and cartoonish, which is a shame, because the other characters struck me overall as very believable. However, the filmmaker clearly wanted there to be a character in this movie who was more despicable than the zombies, and he definitely succeeded. Zombies aren’t exactly deplorable, they’re just zombies. These particular zombies can run like a motherfucker, but are dumb as dirt and get confused if they are left in the dark or if their target suddenly stops moving.

Do you remember the velociraptors from Jurassic Park? The zombies in this movie aren’t a match for them mentally. But they are very dangerous in groups and it’s interesting to see how the human survivors deal with them. The acting in this movie is excellent overall, with Kim Su-An, who plays the daughter, giving what is probably one of the best child performances this year.

The protagonist’s relationship with his daughter makes up the heart of the movie, and that and the inclusion of a pregnant woman heighten the emotional stakes. Train to Busan does a good job of picking out details that make you like and care about the characters, even though there isn’t a lot of time spent solely on character development. One of the weaknesses of films that are packed full of action is that, obviously, it’s hard to invest emotionally in characters if they are not given any defining characterization.

If none of the characters in a story are sympathetic or compelling, it’s going to be damned hard to get the viewers attention when the killing starts. I think this movie did a better job with that facet of the storytelling than most action films I’ve seen lately. Obviously zombies are trendy now and films and books about the undead are a dime a dozen, but this movie is still worth watching even if you’re feeling fed up with the zombie-vampire-apocalypse craze. I just read that an U.S. studio is buying the remake rights for this movie. So please, watch this movie before the Americans get a chance to hash out a shitty remake.

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