Train to Busan has gotten quite a bit of buzz. I was skeptical of course because another zombie film wedged into the oversaturated zombie field seems like it would just be white noise. Unless it was mind-blowing. Then I could understand the hype. But a lot of people whose opinions I respect gave it a thumbs up emoji (or whatever the kids use nowadays. 100 emoji?), so I checked it out. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Seok Woo is an investment guy (i don’t know finance) who derides the “lemmings” who make up the bulk of his clients. You know, the people who’s retirement is wrapped up in investing. However, he lives to serve his super-rich clients. So, he’s an all around great guy obviously. (sarcasm) He’s currently in a nasty custody battle with his ex-wife over their (approximately) 6-year-old daughter. He doesn’t spend time with the girl and he certainly doesn’t leave work to attend her school music showcase. He just doesn’t want his ex to have her. Again, great guy. When he buys his daughter ANOTHER Wii for her birthday (looks like she’s already got 2 others. one still in the box) He feels bad enough to promise her a trip to Busan (from the title!) to see her mother. They head out early in the morning and catch the train. Unfortunately, so does a woman who’s been bitten by a fast zombie! It’s not long before she’s shuffle-running and biting her fellow passengers. The infections spread as the train progresses and Seok Woo, his daughter, and a small group of passengers must survive until they get to Busan where the army has set up safe haven. Or have they?
Train to Busan is director Sang-Ho Yeon’s first live-action film. It is a follow-up to his animated feature, Seoul Station (2016). That’s an intriguing position for a director. Animation allows innovation that live-action special effects technology is only just catching up to. With animation, there is no limit to what can be shown. With film/video, we are limited by special effects technologies (and/or the director’s propensity for OK’ing shitty sfx). Today, those limitations are dwindling. So, one might assume that a director of animated films would embrace those technologies and blow minds with imaginative, innovative, totally rad shots / angles / transitions / etc. Such is not the case with Train to Busan. It is competently directed, to be sure. It just doesn’t stand out as particularly creative in its approach. The camera bumps and lurches during moments of intense peril, but it pretty much stays within the confines of the train (which, admittedly, reflects the films central conflict and may be deliberate) and within spaces that can accommodate a human-sized camera operator. Without innovation of direction, it’s hard to understand the hype surrounding this movie. Sure, the actors are fine, but there’s not a lot being asked of them in the way of range. And the depth of characters is minimal, with a little bit added to Seok Woo by making him the asshole who may / may not redeem himself. Now, that’s a lot of negative for what amounts to a decent fast zombie (it’s important to make that distinction) film. It’s pretty good as far as that sub-sub-genre goes. It’s exciting. It’s scary. It’s gory enough. Just don’t go into it expecting your mind to be blown.
The Final Cut: Train to Busan is a decent fast zombie film with a confined-to-a-train gimmick that makes it just interesting enough. It certainly doesn’t break any new ground, but it won’t disappoint if you know what you’re getting into.