Train to Busan review: Horror movie aficionado? This Korean film has it all
Snakes on a plane? That’s passé. Monsters in the closet? Done before. Zombies in a train? Now that’s something that’s fresh, and trust the Korean film industry to execute such an idea to dizzyingly entertaining levels.
Directed by Yeon Sang Ho, Train to Busan is pretty much a checklist of everything a horror film fan needs – a zombie outbreak, interesting characters, hilarious off kilter comedic situations, a ticking time bomb narrative, excellent production values, and realistic gore. There’s really nothing in the film to not like, and you don’t even need to read the rest of this review to find out if this film is worth watching.
So what’s the story here? It’s predictably simple – a virus has found itself infecting unsuspecting citizens of South Korea. Like in other zombie films the person who is bitten by a zombie also turns into a zombie. The story is told from the point of view of a divorced man (Gong Yu) in Seoul who decides to drop off his daughter to his ex wife in Busan.
They board the famous KTX bullet train, and shortly after the train commences its journey an infected person bites into the TC and the virus spreads like wildfire from compartment to compartment, turning the train into a mixer grinder of infected people chasing the non infected ones.
The constricted nature of the environment adds a nice spin to the tired zombie clichés and the forward motion of the train kind of adds to the tension and atmosphere. The train setting also lets the director take some innovative shots of the action sequences, and also forces the characters to make creative decisions in defending themselves.
One such fascinating scene involves a character avoiding a horde of zombies by climbing along the luggage compartment above them. Interestingly, the zombies in this film can’t see very well, so every time the train goes into a tunnel it makes for simultaneously hilarious and tense sequences where the zombies become stationary and the survivors try to squeeze through them.
Since Korean films are probably the worst at melodrama (they just don’t have the hardcore emo chops of YRF and Dharma) the sentimental aspect in this film is where the film tends to fall off the rails. The father’s character is a stereotypically ‘busy man’ who didn’t have enough time to spend with his daughter, and the predictable climax pumped with saccharine emotional beats makes you roll your eyes.
Ironically at some points earlier in the film that emotional manipulation works in the film’s favour because you actually care about the people and don’t really want them to turn into zombies and die. There’s also a cleverly included ‘villain’ in the film that is a not so subtle commentary on the ‘dog eat dog’ work culture in South Korea, and it’s especially satisfying when the bad guy gets his just desserts.
Train to Busan also makes you credit Danny Boyle for reigniting the zombie outbreak in the film industry. Boyle turned the concept of zombies from slow moving dumb creatures that could be outrun, into fiery raging monsters that you have absolutely no chance to escape from. If you have watched Train to Busan and have not seen Boyle’s horror masterpiece, you could head home from the theater and make this one a double bill.