movie review: Train to Busan (original title: Bu-San-Haeng)

Train to Busan movie poster

(This review is part of a series related to my professional development project of attending the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.)

Train to Busan (original title: Bu-San-Haeng)
(South Korea, 2016)
directed by Yeon Sang-Ho


Train to Busan is above all else a fun movie. It shouldn’t be taken seriously and it doesn’t want to be. Sequel/prequel to the not yet released animated film Seoul Station, the movie has a simple storyline: a bullet train is headed from Seoul to Busan during a mysterious national crisis…which turns out to be a deadly zombie virus. (Amusing intermittent news reports show various government officials assuring the public that they’re safe and everything is definitely under control. DON’T WORRY!)

It’s a fairly straightforward example of the genre, but that’s fine, because it revisits well-trod ground with style. The cast is excellent, especially Kim Soo-Ahn, the young actress who plays Su-an, a smart and sensitive child travelling to visit her mother in Busan, accompanied by her workaholic, self centred father Seok-wu (Gong Yoo). The other characters who band together with them to survive are definitely familiar types: the very pregnant and vulnerable–but also super-tough and determined–Sung-Kyu (Jung Yu-Mi) and her blustery, tender, goofy husband Sang-Hwa (Ma Dong-Seok) who turns out to be a first class zombie ass-kicker. There is also a brave and selfless homeless man (whom the other passengers initially want to throw off the train while ignoring the infected young schoolgirl who initially brings the virus on the train); a pair of elderly sisters whose endearing bond provides one of the catalysts in the film, and some high school sweethearts on a sports trip with their baseball team. There is also a deliciously awful villain, the kind audiences love to hate–an amoral CEO who is determined that HE is not going to get eaten by zombies, no matter what happens or who he has to sacrifice.

The story is mostly a cautionary tale not against the undead but against the base human instincts–greed, selfishness, corruption and general moral bankruptcy–that have allowed the situation to happen in the first place. There are just as many tear-inducing scenes of emotional redemption as there are scenes that make you jump in fright. There is also a lot of humour, and of course plenty of fast moving terrifying zombie action–it is still a horror/thriller after all.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Train to Busan. It was a treat to watch it with the cast and director in the audience, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd that clapped and cheered when the heroes prevailed, and sighed sadly when they didn’t. It was a very participatory experience, which suited the movie perfectly. Highly recommended if you like zombie movies…and maybe even if you normally don’t!

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