Well, that was an impressive film. I’m not even being sarcastic, this was really a very good Korean zombie film in a genre that has been bled drier than Brangelina’s breakup news. Though it has many of the usual tropes you’ve seen many times before, it proves to be as fast and furious as the train in the title.
It opens with a typical guy complaining that his truck has to get a disinfectant spray before passing through a checkpoint on a country road. He really shouldn’t complain, because there is trouble afoot, as later on he knocks down and kills a deer, and then drives away. Pity, because he had stuck around, he would have seen the deer rise up again on its twisted limbs, eyes glazed over like me at an All You Can Eat buffet…
We then meet Seok Woo (Yoo Gong), a Seoul fund manager (or as everyone else in the film calls him, a ‘bloodsucker’. Estranged from his wife, he’s equally estranged from his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim), an estrangement perfectly encapsulated in the scene where brings her a Wii for her birthday – and the kid silently looks over at the Wii he had bought her last year. No Father of the Year awards for you, Jack.
Seok decides to take Soo-an by train to see her mother in Busan, where we meet the rest of the cast, including a Korean Guido and his pregnant wife, a woman and her elderly mother, baseball team, and a ruthless executive asshole who is our Designated Harry. You remember Harry, don’t you?
Anyway, the train leaves, though not before someone boards, looking like they’d spent the night partying with Charlie Sheen. As news reports of sudden outbreaks through major cities in Korea flash up everyone’s smartphones and the train’s TV screens, the train boarder begins attacking and infecting others…
There’s no point in going on further about the plot, because you get the general idea (people trapped in toilets, stations that are meant to be safe but aren’t, attempts to sneak around the zombies). The zombies are of the ultra fast variety, with infection taking place almost immediately (except of course when the plot demands some dramatic moments). They also have an interesting weakness that is exploited to good effect in the course of the film.
What makes this movie work, when ones like WORLD WAR Z didn’t, is the pace (we don’t have long to wait before the action begins, and continues), the characters (holy crap, characters we can actually care about! Who knew?) and the way in which director Dong seok-ma (his first live-action film after a series of successful animated offerings) gives you a realistic sense of bleak, impending doom on a global scale, with some amazing set pieces (including one where zombies fall from choppers overhead, only to rise and attack the stunned spectators) and on a budget a fraction of WWZ’s.
What’s more, there’s even a theme, one that most movies tend to leave out: whether it’s better to be selfless or selfish in the face of threats, something very reminiscent of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Seok Woo initially fulfils the stereotype of the thoughtless Dad and selfish investor, but gradually accepts that he has to help others if he expects help back. But other characters who act selflessly end up paying for it with their lives, while the most ruthless survive far longer than they deserve. Which is the better course of action? If survival requires sacrificing others, is it worth it?
TRAIN TO BUSAN will make it into my Top Ten Horror Films of 2016. Simple as that. It’s on a limited theatrical run in the UK and the US, and the trailer is below.
Director: Dong-seok Ma
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy!!