World Cinema Wednesday: Train To Busan (2016)

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As sleek and fast-moving as the titular vehicle, Train To Busan is yet another zombie film reinvigorating a subgenre that is so often mistakenly identified as dead already (yes, the irony is not lost on me). Written and directed by Yeon Sang-ho, this is an adrenaline-pumping mix of tension, bloodshed, and a few lead characters that viewers quickly start to root for.

The premise is as simple as can be. There’s an outbreak of zombiefication in South Korea. As so often happens with these things, events get worse and worse faster than the authorities can handle the situation. One bitten zombie victim gets herself on a train that is travelling from Seoul to Busan, which leads to a major problem for all of the other passengers.

Anchored by a troubled father-daughter relationship (Gong Yoo and Kim Soo-an, respectively), Train To Busan also has a couple of great supporting characters (played by Jung Yu-mi and Ma Dong-seok) and doesn’t forget to include disposable youngsters, a lone figure who may be helpful or a hindrance, and one sonofabitch who is out to preserve his own safety at any cost (Kim Eui-sung).

Writer-director Sang-ho, who previously gave audience the zombie outbreak in Seoul Station (described by many as a companion piece to this film, I really must check that out), does a perfect job here of interspersing one or two new(-ish) twists to zombie lore – such as the way in which the zombies only want to attack when they can see potential victims – between plenty of more familiar moments.

Yoo and Soo-an are very good in their lead roles, with the former portraying a flawed, busy father trying to do his best by his young girl, and the latter sweet and vulnerable without ever becoming helpless enough to be annoying. Dong-seok is a good tough guy, although far from a heartless one, Yu-mi is very likable as his pregnant partner, and Eui-sung will have viewers looking forward to his potential demise.

As for the zombies themselves, they’re fast and numerous, and all of them are created with impressive FX work. There aren’t really any older, decaying corpses on the prowl here. These flesheaters are all rather fresh, which makes it easier to accept their speed and their hunger to spread themselves far and wide.

Although it’s no game-changer, Train To Busan immediately grabs a spot in the higher echelons of the zombie movie subgenre, thanks to the characters, pacing, and superb set-pieces. It has already become a bit of a fan favourite, with good reason, and I am sure that more and more people will discover and enjoy it in the coming months.

WRITER/DIRECTOR: YEON SANG-HO
STARS: GONG YOO, KIM SOO-AN, JUNG YU-MI, MA DONG-SEOK, CHOI GWI-HWA
RUNTIME: 118 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: SOUTH KOREA

Film Rating: ★★★★½

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