Train to Busan
Train to Busan
2016. Directed by Yeon Sang-Ho
A stunning entry into the pantheon of Zombie Apocalypse films, Train to Busan doesn't reinvent the genre, but instead moves the action to an inescapable locale: a moving train.
A soulless executive father decides to accompany his daughter on a train to see her mother in Busan. Unbeknownst to him, a recent chemical accident at a biochemical plant has unleashed a plague of fast moving undead on South Korea. Things quickly go awry when their train picks up an unwanted, infected passenger and soon, the remaining survivors are trapped on a train to nowhere with dwindling options for survival.
There are so many powerful elements on display that the film almost overwhelms with its hyper horror presentation. Gong Yoo carries the film as the executive who makes the natural, survivor transition from working joe to fearless father, willing to do anything to ensure the safety of his daughter. Kim Su-an plays the child in question, embodying the moral framework of a propelled microcosm gone mad. Her emotional response to the terror is conveyed with the natural adaptation that is inherent in youth. South Korean acting phenom Jung Yi-mi adds her considerable strength as a pregnant woman who becomes a surrogate for Su-an, while Ma Dong-seok steals the show as her dedicated husband who has line after line of hilarious and heartbreaking dialogue, written by Park Joo-suk. The script is lean and nasty, taking an unusually long approach to bringing the story to a heart stopping crescendo of gruesome visuals and shockingly intrinsic human responses.
The wonder of Train to Busan is that it takes every zombie trope (greed, sacrifice, infected survivor in the group), reskins them, and tosses them into a moving abattoir where no one is safe. It's not clear if a single zombie is actually killed in this film and its a testament to the inventiveness of the director and the story. The survivors are quick thinkers and use the train itself as a weapon and sanctuary. The zombies have some weaknesses that are essential to the narrative, but the events are so stressful you don't have time to think about them until the credits roll.
Lee Hyung-deok's cinematography is blazing, following the desperate humans as they move car to car, fighting the dead and the living. The violence is mostly implied, but every drop of blood is shown with purpose, a reflection of the fraying of the social contract among the humans. The makeup effects are decent, but it's the visual effects, combined with the amazing choreography used for the zombies that puts Train to Busan into top shelf territory. The dead are agents of centrifugal force, the very weight of their soulless bodies crashing through windows and creating bridges of skin atop which waves of flesh eating horrors can rush. They are constantly in motion, even when searching for prey and it's this juxtaposition from the living, who spend many scenes frozen in terrified deliberation that creates a intensity not often found in films like this. Yes, there are elements of other humans being a danger, but they pale in comparison to the fast moving horde. Once sequence in particular, involving an escalator at a train station is so heart pounding that it required multiple viewings to catch all of the grotesque interactions that inhabit the screen at one time.
Coming to digital on December 13th, Train to Busan is a trimmed up, super slick kinetic shocker that uses the action, rather than a paltry opening to build empathy for the victims. Despite being 118 minutes long, Sang-ho manages to maintain enough energy to bring the simplistic, but innovative tale to a poignant and plausible conclusion. Buy your ticket and ignore the blood stained hand prints on the windshield, you want to be on this ride when it leaves the station.