Train to Busan – South Korea, 2016

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”Get on board to stay alive’

Train to Busan – original title: Busanhaeng – is a 2016 South Korean action horror film written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon. It stars Yoo Gong, Dong-seok Ma, Yu-mi Jeong, Ahn So-hee, Kim Soo-ahn and Jung Yu-mi.

On 7 December 2016, it was announced that French studio Gaumont have made a deal with Korean distributor-financier Next Entertainment World to remake Train to Busan in English.

Review:

Train to Busan is the first ever South Korean zombie apocalypse action thriller, and the first live-action film directed by Sang-ho Yeon. Yeon’s previous works are all animated, including Seoul Station (2016) which is the prequel to Train to Busan.

The chaos begins in Seoul, which has become a quarantine zone after a chemical spill. A deer flattened by a truck springs back to life and before long, the city has been overridden by the walking – or in this case, running – dead.

Workaholic fund manager and all-around lame father, Seok-woo, is travelling with his daughter to see her mother in Busan, with whom he’s separated. An injured woman boards their train, only to collapse and transform into a cloudy-eyed, vein-infested zombie. After munching on one of the attendants, the virus spreads rapidly through the train. A group of passengers manage to escape to a safe carriage, including tough guy Sang-hwa and his pregnant wife; and school baseball player Yong-guk and his cheerleader crush.

Seok-woo begins as an unlikeable character, almost shutting passengers out of his carriage to save himself. Nine-year-old Soo-an is ashamed and disappointed in her father, claiming that he only cares about himself. The train stops at the next station where surviving passengers think it’s safe to depart; however, the station has been overrun with zombie soldiers and they must flee back to the train.

In the modernised vein of World War Z (2013) and 28 Days Later (2002), the enemy is fast and more characteristic of rabid cannibals, bringing the tension to many peaks in this claustrophobic setting. While there are comical elements to the jerky, crooked mutants – notably the guy staggering around with a dislocated arm swinging over his head – this comes as no surprise in a sub-genre that’s evolved more for gore than scares. The central characters, although clichéd, are interesting and free from the irritating flaws as seen in the film’s American counterparts.

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Back onboard the train, the pairs are forcibly separated and the three men must fight their ways through each carriage in order to save their loved ones. We get a bloody show of brain bashing with baseball bats, police shields and Sang-hwa throwing the zombies around like a mini Hulk. They discover that the enemy can’t see in the dark, so they wait for the train to pass through various tunnels before creeping from isle to isle with the girls in tow.

In their panic, the other passengers have shut them out of the safe carriage and sacrifices have to be made; but with the zombie horde becoming increasingly larger and a blocked track, the survivors must search for another train. Unfortunately, the train conductor is killed and Soek-woo is bitten while keeping his promise to Sang-hwa to protect his pregnant wife; and to see his daughter to safety.

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Train to Busan was well-received by the masses worldwide and is a deserving critical hit. In an over-popularised genre, the film throws in glimmers of uniqueness that keep it entertaining and doesn’t fall prey to the over-the-top special effects as commonly seen in Asian cinema. It became the highest-grossing Korean film in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore; as well as finding success in India, where it was released in four languages. With rumours of an English-speaking remake, Train to Busan must have something to offer that comparable films are lacking.

Rae Louise, HORRORPEDIA

Other reviews:

“Like The Host, this takes familiar genre forms and tailors them to Korean audiences – there are references to the MERS outbreak of 2015 and the controversial official response, while a couple of the characters (Seok-woo’s wise, unhappy grandmother and a couple of contrasting elderly lady passengers) seem to be local archetypes liable to prompt reactions foreign audiences won’t have. What is universal is the thrill ride aspect – and this is genuinely an exciting movie – probably the best monsters-on-a-train film since Horror Express.” The Kim Newman Web Site

” … like most Korean blockbusters, the production cannot resist showing off its visual and special effects clout, resulting in a bombastic stunt toward the end that’s incongruous with the film’s lean, gritty style. Likewise, the screenplay piles on the hysteria and the schmaltz in the last leg, and the hitherto restrained cast have no choice but to dial up performances to a borderline farcical level.” Maggie Lee, Variety

” … what might well be my film of the year. The best fast-moving action zombie picture ever made, the best train-set horror picture ever made, and the best film ever to close FrightFest.” John Llewellyn Probert, House of Mortal Cinema

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“Visually, Yeon takes the zombie hoard and portrays it almost like a wave. Individual zombies, though very fast, pose little threat by themselves, but in large numbers they pile into locations, falling in streams over ledges and through holes and building on top of each other whenever an obstacle gets in the way. Coupled with the motion of the train, this creates some memorable visuals within the cars.” Pierce Conran, Twitch

” …adds an extra element of drama when the characters discover the zombies can’t see in the dark, leading to some amazingly simple but incredibly effective timed sequences going through tunnels. Yeon crafts an exceptional film with impeccable direction, as Train to Busan is the most white-knuckle and taught zombie movie in a number of years.” Luke Owen, Flickering Myth

Train to Busan is largely set on board the express, but as it is forced to make stops along the way, Yeon gets an opportunity to move to grander set-pieces, including aerial shots which give context to the scale of the outbreak. Many of these exterior scenes are more reliant on CGI, which is ironically where the film starts to lose steam.” Jason Bechervaise, Screen Daily

Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.co.uk

“Yeon’s comic book sensibilities, emphasis on pace, and keen visual style combine for a thoroughly enjoyable and completely satisfying cinematic experience. The virus is effectively introduced in a brief, but stunningly effective prologue. There’s a brief slog through the dad and daughter backstory in order to get on the train, but once we’re all aboard, this baby rolls.” Meet Mr. Karma

Train to Busan is not a game-changer, but it’s the best entry to a genre that many people feel has grown stale in a long, long time. It offers thrills, gore, interesting characters and a surprising amount of heart. In short, you really do need to get onboard.” Steven Hickey, UK Horror Scene

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Cast and characters:

  • Gong Yoo as Seok-woo, a fund manager obsessed with his work
  • Jung Yu-mi as Seong-kyeong, Sang-hwa’s pregnant wife
  • Kim Su-an as Soo-an, Seok-woo’s young daughter who wants to go to Busan to see her mother
  • Ma Dong-seok as Sang-hwa, a tough, working-class man
  • Kim Eui-sung as Yon-suk, a rich CEO
  • Choi Woo-shik as Yong-guk, a young baseball player
  • Ahn So-hee as Jin-hee, Yong-guk’s close friend
  • Choi Gwi-hwa as a homeless man
  • Jung Suk-yong as Captain of KTX
  • Ye Soo-jung as In-gil
  • Park Myung-sin as Jong-gil
  • Jang Hyuk-jin as Ki-chul
  • Kim Chang-hwan as Kim Jin-mo
  • Shim Eun-kyung as Runaway Girl

Seoul Station – South Korea, 2016

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