TRAIN TO BUSAN
Train to Busan is one of the few recent zombie films to take itself seriously. I was intrigued to see what it did with the zombie theme as it had gotten some great word of mouth at various fantastic festivals. Indeed, it was one of the few South Korean films that one can think since I Saw the Devil (2010) as far as I am aware to get a widespread North American release that was not relegated to Korean niche markets.
Train to Busan does nothing particularly original with the zombie film. If anything, it builds on our assumptions with the familiar such that it never concerns itself with the causes of the apocalypse. About the only familiar touch we dont get is the need to shoot zombies in the head to kill them, although here they do develop a new vulnerability in not being able to see in the dark. The only real spin on the familiar that Train to Busan offers is to contain the action on a train. Here the filmmakers have taken the basic premise from Snakes on a Plane (2006) and placed the resident menace aboard a moving vehicle. The train seems to be a new venue for this type of drama and we have seen the likes of The Asylums Snakes on a Train (2006), as well as Horror Express (1972) and Alien Express (2005) with aliens aboard a train, and Howl (2015) featuring a werewolf on a train. For the record, we had previously had zombies on a plane with Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane (2007) and Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011).
It is not until some way into the film that Train to Busan kicks into high gear. The sequence that did it for me was the one with the various passengers stopped at a station and going out to get help only to be forced to retreat as they encounter a massive horde of zombies and in the race of the separated stragglers to get back to the train as it departs. This is followed by the equally intense sequence where the three men make the decision to rescue the handful of survivors who have become trapped in the bathroom cubicle, which requires them passing through three carriages filled with zombies and fighting them with bare hands in the confined space. In these sequences, Sang-ho Yeon generates a considerable degree of tension.
Sang-ho Yeon does perhaps over-emphasise the theme of the need for group cooperation over individual survival of the fittest in this regard, Yoo Gong, cast as the businessman who has been inattentive to his daughter, has his story arc spelt out fairly much from the introductory scenes. The other bit I did have trouble believing was that the glass sliding doors separating the carriages would hold so easily against the zombie hordes pressed against them where, it would appear from one piece of dialogue, there is nothing more than a latch holding them closed and the zombies lacking the brains to figure out how to slide a door open.
However, when it comes to pieces of drama like the race to get across the Busan train yard and with several of the key players trapped in a triangle formed underneath two collided trains that are arcing electricity at the same time as the zombie hordes are pressed against the windows above that are threatening to break, not to mention the concluding piece where the engine car gets away while dragging a horde of zombies along the track behind it that keeps getting bigger as more zombies throw themselves on top, you realise that Sang-ho Yeon has done something fairly remarkable with the zombie film. Indeed, he even does so to such an extent that ones usual antipathy to fast-moving zombies fails to kick in.
Surprisingly, Train to Busan is the first live-action film for Sang-ho Yeon. As director, he had previously made the animated films The King of Pigs (2011) and The Fake (2013), both of which are non-fantastical. Around the same time as this, Sang-ho Yeon also released the animated Seoul Station (2016), which acts as a prequel to the events of Train to Busan.