TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
Rapid-hunt zombies terrorise desperate train passengers in an action-horror mash-up filled with social commentary
Despite the popularity of the zombie genre, there has always been a lethargic nature to the brain-eating undead which somehow reduces their ability to terrorise. If you are able to walk briskly, you might just survive the zombie apocalypse after all.
Enter the zombie incarnations of Yeon Sang-ho's genre defining Train to Busan, who rather than stumble forwards groaning ‘braaaaains’, are sprinting towards you with full-blooded intent, limbs flaying in every direction with forward momentum (a concept perhaps inspired by US film World War Z in 2013).
Regardless of the source material, Yeon’s zombies pose considerable fresh threat, while the film also blends with the action genre to create a frenetic pace and assault on the senses.
Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is a workaholic fund manager, divorced from his wife with their young daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) being raised between the separated households.
When Su-an expresses a desire to spend her birthday back with her mother it forces, as the title states, the need to take a train to Busan.
On board the train we are introduced to a diverse spectrum of oppositional characters, such as Sang-hwa, a tough, working-class man played by the hulking figure of Ma Dong-seok (The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil), and his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi).
There is a young baseball team en route to a game which includes Yong-guk (Choi Woo-shik – Parasite, Time to Hunt) and his close friend and wannabe girlfriend, cheerleader Jin-hee (Sohee).
There is also Yon-suk (Kim Eui-sung), the rich and arrogant COO of Stallion Express, who you can wilfully wish to be torn apart by zombies without a flicker of guilt.
As the train departs, an infected woman jumps on, attacks a train attendant, and the infection is soon spreading through the carriages.
As the group escapes to another carriage, news comes in that the epidemic is spreading across the country and the fight for survival begins in earnest.
The film itself is a wild ride of action and horror, enjoyable if you look no further than the madness unfurling before your eyes. However, it is also a deeply profound social commentary and moral thought experience on several differing levels.
It looks at concepts of corporate greed and power, epitomised by the grotesque company COO Yon-suk, who throws a lens on South Korea’s work-obsessed culture and the ethics of conglomerates.
We see this theme continue into the personal journey of Seok-woo, who tells his daughter early in the film to “only look after yourself”, but sees the value of widening his circle of concern and the importance of his daughter.
Social responsibility, rapid industrialisation, responsibilities towards the elderly and the social pressures applied to South Korea’s youth are also unpacked in a smorgasbord of vital issues assessed as zombies try to eat them.
A monumental box-office smash, it attracted 11 million cinemagoers in South Korea and grossed over $93 million worldwide. A thrilling and thoughtful action-horror all round.