I didn’t hear much of the buzz surrounding Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan until I watched one of my favorite horror movie reviewers cover it. Then I began to realize I had seen multiple threads about this movie and heard it name dropped frequently of late. I didn’t need a whole lot of reasons to watch a popular Korean zombie flick and decided immediately I was going to watch it this month. After Old Boy, The Host, I Saw the Devil, and A Tale of Two Sisters, I have a lot of faith in disturbing Korean movies and have yet to see a bad one.
Train to Busan is another excellent addition to this list. The story behind the film is as simple as the title implies — a busy, absent father takes his daughter on a train ride to the city of Busan and while they’re on the train it just so happens that the zombie apocalypse starts. Cue insanity.
If anyone is going to dismiss this movie it’s going to be over the fact that it’s a zombie movie. I can completely understand why anyone would be sick of zombies at this point. They can be a dull villain, because often no matter how much you mix it up they’re still just growling dead people who either run or walk and want to eat humans. You know what to expect out of any given zombie movie. If you absolutely despise this subgenre then chances are you’re not going to shed that point of view for a foreign horror movie.
Although I certainly experience zombie fatigue, there’s just something about them that I like even after the idea’s been done so many times. The first horror movie I ever watched was Night of the Living Dead and I’m still fond of most of Romero’s movies. For me, as long as there’s some new element added to the zombie concept, I’m into it.
I’m going to argue that there are two things that make the zombies in this film more interesting. The first is the confined environment. A train is a pretty linear setting and the movie does a good job portraying the chaos flowing through the train compartments. The confined space adds a somewhat interesting and new dynamic to the zombie story. It makes for some very cool scenes. The second thing is the actual look of the zombies. They’re not incredibly different, but their movements and appearances are well done. It looks almost as if they hired break dancers for the parts, seeing the way that they move.
I could potentially say there’s a third element that makes this film’s zombies worth it, but to be honest I didn’t find it all that intriguing. These zombies are blind in the darkness, which proves useful going through train tunnels. Eh? Eh.
The movie has a nice blend of silliness and drama without ever really dipping into being too horrifying or gory. There are some funny moments that are well placed and serve to break tension and also endear you to certain characters. The cast of characters, as I’ve found with all the aforementioned Korean horror movies, is fantastic. You slowly get to know them, learning a few traits to make you love some and hate others, and it’s done well considering there is quite a handful of characters. The daughter is absolutely adorable and doesn’t enter annoying child actor territory whatsoever.
The look of the movie is nice as well. The environment gives us some great contrasting colors, rich oranges and blues and grays and yellows. There are many scenes within this environment that are entertaining to watch. The zombies look great falling out of helicopters and pouncing off the ground, tumbling in a wave through the train in a way that speaks to World War Z but has a much better overall look. Some of the cooler scenes also are a bit silly, which is mixed in well and spread apart from the more dramatic action sequences.
One complaint I do have is how relaxed the actors are. There’s an enjoyable gradual build up of people discovering that the zombie apocalypse is happening, however the realization happens a little too slowly. It is ridiculous how slowly some people catch on to the presence of zombies in their train car. The actors don’t really scream and seem rather calm when confronted with the undead, which can be nice if you hate listening to the screaming.
What’s most charming about this movie (a horror movie? charming?) is that there are actually some nice family values carried throughout the story. Yes, it’s entertaining and action-packed, with some scenes that might make you gasp or slap your hand to your mouth, but the story still ended up being very touching and emotional. The ending moved me and I cared about the characters. Which is pretty shocking for a zombie movie.
This is one of the best zombie flicks I’ve seen in years, perhaps since the original [Rec], and I recommend checking it out even if you’re a little sick to death of the undead.