Weekly Review: Train to Busan (2016)

A bullet train to Busan turns into a hellish nightmare for passengers as a zombie outbreak begins around them.

Train to Busan is a 2016 South Korean film that took the country by storm after its summer release. Bringing in over 11 million movie-goers in South Korea alone, Train to Busan grossed $99 million worldwide. It became the highest grossing South Korean film in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Rumors of Western production houses fighting for the rights to remake the film soon came to light, and in December 2016, it was revealed that Gaumont would be producing the English language remake.

Train to Busan¬†stars¬†Gong Yoo (Coffee Prince, The Suspect), Ma Dong-Seok (Midnight FM, The Flu), and Jung Yu-Mi (Manhole, The Crucible), featuring roles by Ahn So-Hee (former member of K-Pop group The Wonder Girls) and the young, talented Kim Su-An. Each of these actors does a great job portraying their roles. If you’re not prepared for it, you may find many moments where the actors involved could bring you to tears. I know Kim Su-An got me tearing up in the end.

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The film begins with fund manager Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) and his daughter Su-An (Kim Su-An). Seok-Woo is going through a divorce, and his dedication to his job makes him a pretty absent father. Su-An is struggling through her parents’ divorce as well, and for her birthday, all she wants is to visit her mother in Busan. Seok-Woo reluctantly agrees to accompany her on the trip.

As they board the train, they soon meet several other interesting characters, including tough guy Sang-Hwa (Ma Dong-Seok) and his pregnant partner Seong-Kyung (Jung Yu-Mi), a high school baseball team, a homeless man, two elderly sisters, and a selfish business executive. Little do they know, terror is unfolding within the station, and their train won’t escape unscathed.

Train to Busan is a nonstop thriller. In many ways, it borrows from the film adaptation of World War Z. This is most notable with its zombies in particular. They are incredibly brutal, fast running, and willing to pile up on each other to get where they want to be. It’s very reminiscent of the scene on the airplane in World War Z. Enclosed spaces and zombies just do not mix. At this point, I’ve shared the movie with several people, and we all agreed that it was a rollercoaster of emotion, and there isn’t much time to catch your breath.

Typical of many Korean films, the story turns to melodrama on several occasions. The story attempts to make you cry, and it’s likely to succeed. As the story progresses, many of the characters lose their uniqueness. They become archetypes. At times their fates become predictable, and their actions and decisions become more outrageous. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a valid criticism nonetheless.

Train to Busan really stands out as a South Korean film because it is one of the first, if not the very first zombie film that the country has ever produced. It has a cultural context to it that really makes it special. The trip from Seoul to Busan in particular is very country-specific. This train ride is going from one end of the country to the other, and as the movie progresses, it becomes more apparent that safety will be difficult to find. The movie also has a lot of political references to protests, presidential histories, classism and more.

I would definitely recommend Train to Busan. I’ve watched it several times at this point. I bought the digital copy, and I’ll be buying a physical copy when it becomes available. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve shown the film to several people, and as far as I know, they’ve enjoyed it as well. If you’re new to Korean films, this might be a good transition into them. If you’re familiar with Korean films already, then you’ll probably enjoy it. When it comes to zombie lore, Train to Busan doesn’t really add anything new, but it’s enjoyable either way.

Most critic reviews of Train to Busan are positive. I’ve seen many comparisons to World War Z (for the zombies) and Snowpiercer (for the train). Some critics say that Train to Busan brought a level of emotion that World War Z was unable to deliver. Other critics say that Train to Busan lacks that emotion because of the characters becoming archetypes. Personally, I think it’s a nonstop thrill ride, very brutal, dramatic, and emotional. I think it will stick with you. Plus, I’m a sucker for zombie movies in general.

As for the upcoming English language remake, I can’t really be sure. Since the film doesn’t really add anything new on the zombie front, I’m not incredibly hopeful for the remake to be as much of a stand out as the original. Once you remove the South Korean element from the film, it might not end up being as memorable. Only time will tell.

Check out the trailer for Train to Busan below!

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