Train to Busan (2016)

I don't think I actively avoided Train to Busan once I started hearing about it a few years ago.  It has just reached a point where new zombie films don't excite me.  Between The Walking Dead and all the bad Romero knock-offs the idea of zombies doesn't thrill me like it used to when this genre of movies was still a niche horror genre that produced some excitement from the fact that fans were being recognized by a movie like Shaun of the Dead.  It has reached the same saturation point as vampires did long before the Twilight series further tainted their legacy. 

All I knew was that it was a South Korean movie about zombies on a train.  I didn't know if they were going to be the fast, CGI-enhanced creatures of Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead or the lumbering creatures from George A. Romero's films.  What interested me was when I started hearing that Train to Busan was an actual good movie rather than another sad, bloodless cash-in like World War Z.  

Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is a funds manager for a firm in Seoul.  Although he has custody of his daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) he doesn't spend much time with her as his work takes up the majority of his life.  It is the day before her birthday and what she wants most is to go to Busan to visit her mother, something she guilts her father into after he gives her a thoughtless gift.  

After everyone boards the train a young woman showing signs of an infection sneaks on, as does a homeless man who is saying something about everyone being dead.  It turns out that the infection turns the young woman into a mindless, rabid creature that attacks a high school baseball team that is taking the train back home.  The victims who are bitten change fast and soon attack other passengers.  The only weakness appears that they need to see or hear their victims to attack, as otherwise they have forgotten how to work the simplest of technology.  The survivors on the train become aware of the rest of South Korea falling under the same plague and hope that their train is able to make it to its destination and safety. 

Unlike most zombie films the reason for this is clear from the beginning: a chemical leak caused by a major biotech firm.  The creatures themselves, though of the fast variety, are different than previous western versions, as they move in a jerky fashion, often contorting their limbs.  Though parts of the film were sped up the zombie effects were done through choreography rather than CGI, resulting in some genuinely creepy moments.  The CGI itself is used effectively in crowd scenes and large-scale shots of the devastation that is happening, but never looks like the cut-and-paste pixilated video game style that marred scenes like the breaching of protective walls in Jerusalem in World War Z.

This is also a star-studded production, with Gong Yoo being a famous actor in South Korea before this and Ma Dong-seok, who plays a working class father-to-be named Sang-hwa, being Woo's former personal trainer and well-known the MMA circuit.  Kim Su-an does well, with her character often trying to do the right thing and even calling her father out for his amorality.  The one villain, in a predictable turn, is a CEO that will do anything to survive, played to the hilt by Kim Eui-sung. 

This was Yeon Sang-ho's first live-action feature film.  His previous work was serious animated dramas, and he uses his animation experience to push what can be done on screen.  It is a major feat to bring something like this to the screen the first try and, so far, it's been something he hasn't been able to duplicate, even with the movie's 2020 sequel Peninsula.  Whether he remains a flash-in-the-pan director is to be seen, but if he is at least he left us with an exciting take on a worn-out genre.  This still has much of the human drama and the "we are the monsters" theme, and putting class warfare on a train was done quite well with Snowpiercer.  Still, Train to Busan feels new, much the same way the current run of Planet of the Apes movies has rescued that hoary series as well.  

Train to Busan (2016)
Time: 118 minutes
Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Eui-sung
Director: Yeon Sang-ho



  1. I'm surprised Hollywood hasn't tried a remake of it yet. But what US city could they use? Boston? Seattle? Detroit? Miami?

    1. I heard they were working on it. I think the destination was New York. No one goes to Detroit willingly.

    2. True. I live in suburban Detroit and even I don't go to actual Detroit. lol


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