★★★★ out of ★★★★★
A Korean zombie rollercoaster! How fun is that?
Some horror movies are a terrific cultural connector to their region. Train to Busan is a madcap, panic soaked zombie apocalypse film that wears its Korean heritage proudly. Plenty of Korean centric tropes here, from the overly busy corporate father to the gung-ho young baseball team, to the very train itself it all has such a great Korean… Seoul. HA! Couldn’t resist. Eric’s bad horror movie pun for the month. It is a zombie film, so I shouldn’t read too much into it, but this is a bit of a North Korea/South Korea allegory, with the threat of your neighbors to the north poised to storm over the border… but perhaps I read too much into that.
What is undeniable, however, is that this movie is shot with an amazing verve and pace. The story is packed with immediately compelling characters, particularly Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) the aforementioned delinquent divorcee dad, his cherubic daughter Soo-An (Su-an Kim), and lovable tough guy Sang-Hwa (Dong-Seok Ma, who I will be looking for in future movies.) The plot is about as straightforward as it gets. Seok-woo and Soo-An are leaving Seoul to pay a visit to Soo-An’s mother in Busan, on a high-speed commuter train. As soon as the train leaves the station, the zombie plague strikes. It starts with a single sick passenger, who then infects one of the stewards, and then it’s a flood of zombies. Who’s to say how long it takes for a zombie infection to take? In this movie’s case, just like the action, the infection strikes very quickly. At times, it really feels like an unstoppable rush of the undead. We’ve seen some of this before with 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and World War Z… but these fast zombies are in a contained space, and the combination of the claustrophobia and the speed at which the horde comes is breathtaking. Lots of great supporting players make lots of noble sacrifices, and the villainous selfish businessman is suitably dastardly.
Train to Busan is admittedly not a particularly original movie. Many of the traditional zombie movie beats are all there. From the silence before the zombie rush, to the sneaking around the zombies who are too dim to spot the survivors, to the fantastic closing scene in all its stumbling and staggering exhaustion, the key thing is that this is executed at a level much higher than the average zombie movie. It is fun. It is gross. And it is heartfelt. The father-daughter connection, so central to this movie, is spot-on. After so many apparent years of neglectful parenting, Seok-Woo is making up for his absentee parenting in the most poignant way possible. Equally important, Soo-An still loves her dad and hasn’t given up on him. I also really enjoyed the bonds of camaraderie shown by a pair of elderly sisters and the rowdy and brave baseball players who desperately try and be the young protectors of the train.
At some point, I know it will happen. Some American production company will try and copy this movie and call it Train to Boston, and co-opt the greatness that is this movie. It’s the fate of many successful Asian horror movies to be released in America with a western update of the film. Ringu. The Grudge. Battle Royale. Dark Water. Power Rangers. OK, forget Power Rangers. What I will implore you, good reader, is to make sure that you see THIS version of Train to Busan, before it becomes a watered-down Hollywood version.