Director: Yeon Sang Ho
Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Soo An, Jung Yu Mi
Next Entertainment World
July 20th, 2016 (S. Korea)/July 22nd, 2016 (Canada)
I was pretty much done with the zombie genre. I grew tired of The Walking Dead and the mere mention of the word had me rolling my eyes. So when I started to see rave reviews of the South Korean zombie film, Train to Busan, my interest was piqued. Mostly because it was a South Korean version rather than another from the west. Just moving a concept to another part of the world, tackled by those occupying that space adds a freshness to it. In fact, I found out that “it’s the first zombie blockbuster in Korea.”
And I felt it.
Within the first twenty minutes or so, the film takes its time setting up the relationship between it’s main character, Seok Woo, and his daughter. He’s a divorced hedge fund manager who’s too busy to spend time with his daughter. She asks to visit her mother in Busan for her birthday and he reluctantly agrees. They board the bullet train and that’s when all hell breaks loose.
The pace picks up right when the location shifts to the train. The rate of infection is fast. Individuals are transforming almost immediately after being bit. There’s a sense of urgency but also suspense. My heart was racing. I wanted to yell profanities during my screening especially because it seemed like the characters haven’t heard of zombies before (I showed restraint). This is Yeon Sang Ho’s first time directing a live action feature after mostly doing animated features that he’s drawn, written and directed himself (including the Train to Busan prequel, Seoul Station). It’s hard to believe given how visually effective the film is with its CGI heavy effects. According to the director, “I feel some pressure. But on the other hand, I have high expectations for the film since the project will allow me to focus on directing.” He went on to tell IndieWire:
“While making animations, in addition to directing, I have to engage in various tasks such as writing screenplays, drawing and painting, composition and editing. But I can focus on directing during production of ‘Busan.’ Also, the specialized production staffs are giving me a big helping hand. I think I will receive more help from them in the future.”
Zombie films of this scale feel like a disaster film and a successful disaster film has great characters to latch on to and personal relationships at the centre of it. While I enjoyed Seok Woo and his daughter, Soo An, growing to understand one another, I also adored a couple, Sang Hwa (Ma Dong Seok) and Sung Gyeong (Jung Yu-Mi) who are pregnant. The film also features two teens, two elderly sisters, a selfish business man and a homeless man.
I’ve always understood disaster films as a critique of humanity. Specifically: what happens when we’re asked to go into survival mode? Who are these people who will help others in spite of it? Soo An is constantly challenging her father to be a better person which transform him from the self-centred corporate man into a productive member of a group trying to survive. Another business man, however, played by Kim Eui Sung, is consistent in his self survival at the expense of others. There is discussion of class here that is not overtly obvious but it’s also a specific critique of Korean culture according to this NPR article by Elise Hu:
“We don’t trust anyone but ourselves,” says film critic Youn Sung-eun, who writes for the Busan Daily. […] In the film, those in charge — and the media— “are easily manipulated by others,” Youn says, which she said is a message the film’s director was sending about the institutions here.
At the end of the day, it’s a fun and action packed film with some fantastic scenes. If there’s a screening near you, I highly recommend going.