Editor’s Note: Electroshadow’s awesome foreign contributor Dennis Perez is back! And what a movie he’s chosen to mark his return with. It’s the Korean zombie thriller that’s been breaking Box Office records and garnering huge critical acclaim. What is our take on it?…
TRAIN TO BUSAN
Zombie movies are often predictable. They are usually about the fear and distrust of fellow humans, and the intense desire to outlast and survive an uncontrollable epidemic.
“Train To Busan” starts its journey on the same track, adhering to the conventions of the genre. But at locomotive speed, director Yeon Sang-ho steers its plot into another direction, a detour that alters the film’s focus from whose flesh will be eaten next to which passenger will be most morally challenged.
Workaholic fund manager Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is doing well in his job. But his success at work leaves little time for his daughter Su-an (Kim Soo-an). Guilty of messing up things during Su-an’s birthday, Seok-woo gives in to the child’s request of visiting Busan, where his ex-wife lives. Father and daughter immediately hop onto a train. But as it rolls out of the platform in Seoul, the trip that would have reconnected him with his daughter quickly turns into a horrific fight for survival.
The film could have been simple and straightforward, but Yeon, who also wrote the film, texturizes the story by bringing in passengers with varying moral capacities: a tough man named Sang-hwa and his calm pregnant wife, a rowdy high school baseball team, a young couple obsessively in love, two elderly sisters, a creepy homeless man, and a paranoid middle-aged business man. Not all are ethically conditioned to save anyone except themselves.
In spite of the film’s multiple sub-plots, storytelling remains tight. Character development progressively deepens as the train hurtles forward, allowing Yeon to use the moral struggle of each character to deliver the film’s timely social commentary: that the fight to survive brings out the bloodthirsty monster in each of us.
The film takes full advantage of the cramped and narrow train setting. As the zombie infestation spreads within the carriages, the separation between the living and the dead blurs. In a thrilling sequence where passengers battle to move from one infested car to another, the allegory of good penetrating evil is made clear. But as they push deeper into the train, one cannot resist asking: will the living do more harm than the dead?
Yeon’s direction coupled with Lee Hyong-deok’s cinematography also helps deliver the right reactions throughout the film. The tight camerawork inside the cabins captures the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in the centre of zombie action, while the breathtaking aerial shots give an overwhelming perspective of the epidemic’s scale. Although some characters are blandly acted, Kim Soo-an carries her role remarkably well as Seok-woo’s daughter. She is the film’s emotional core.
The film purposefully departs from the norm by taking an approach that echoes current social anxieties. Whether it reminds you of transmittable diseases like MERS and Zika, the current migration issues in Europe, or lesser inequities experienced every day, “Train To Busan” is able to find a resonating connection between reality and fiction.
Few zombie films have pulled off emotions and themes quite like this.