SEOUL STATION (2016)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Run time: 1h 32m
Animated Train to Busan prequel provides high-action drama but in a sea of ravaging zombies the uninfected are the true monsters
“If I’d had a place to go, I wouldn’t have lived inside Seoul Station,” pleads one of the many homeless characters caught up in the growing zombie apocalypse across the city.
Soon after, there is an extended scene within some still empty luxury apartments, huge and decadent but not intended for any of the characters in this film.
Those familiar with the animated works of Train to Busan (2016) director Yeon Sang-ho – the deeply bleak The King of Pigs (2011) and The Fake (2013) – will be primed for the dark places he traverses and the social commentaries he forcefully makes along the way.
Released just months after Train to Busan was building momentum into an international hit, Seoul Station shows how the zombie epidemic began. More than that, the homeless population of Seoul and their interactions around the train station form the discourse of how a rich society treats such citizens.
Hye-sun (Shim Eun-kyung) has run away from her former life in a brothel, but is instead stuck with her good-for-nothing boyfriend, Ki-woong (Lee Joon), himself planning to pimp her out for desperate funds.
This leads to an argument between the pair and they are separated as chaos descends on Seoul Station. Hye-sun manages to make a nearby police station, only to become trapped in a jail cell with a rabid bunch of zombies champing at the bit to get at her and some other station survivors.
Elsewhere, Ki-woong has met Hye-sun's father, Suk-gyu (Ryu Seung-ryong), who is demanding to know his daughter's location. They pair up to find Ki-woong, battling their own cohort of rampant zombies in the process.
As they attempt to be reunited with Ki-woong, Seoul descends into zombie chaos and it is the inhabitants already marginalised by the city who increasingly find themselves in the firing line.
While homelessness rates in Seoul have dropped since the film was released, the average duration of homelessness in Seoul remains high at over 11 years, an issue the film is keen to highlight.
There is an inescapable bleakness throughout, one necessary to punch home the social commentary of the city’s treatment of the homeless and the actions of authorities that dehumanise such communities. Never one to shy away from such approaches, Yeon continues to ratchet up such dolefulness throughout.
The film’s animation is solid enough without necessarily being exceptional. For large parts though this rarely distracts from the drama unfolding before us, as the action steams along and the emotional punches are truly felt.
While there is no narrative necessity to have seen Train to Busan, alongside Peninsula (2020), there is now a well-rounded trilogy of Yeon zombie films that is a whole greater than its parts. The animated nature of Seoul Station even allows him free rein to ramp up the horror and bleakness, making it a unique addition to Korea’s overflowing zombie film cannon.
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