Breathtakingly fast-paced and claustrophobic, Train to Busan is an absolute thrill ride from start to finish. As a zombie movie, it’s about sheer overwhelming numbers and tense escapes – so if you are like me and hate jump scare horror or even bloody gore – you’ll be OK here. This film has more in common with the disaster movie genre than anything else horror wise – and that’s exactly how I like it!
Runtime: 118 minutes
A zombie outbreak takes place in South Korea and quickly causes mass panic and destruction. Those onboard a train try desperately to survive but the outbreak is onboard and taking over things quickly. Can anyone survive and make it stronghold Busan?
The Disasters Faced
A zombie outbreak, trains exploding, a baseball bat to the head, being shot at by the army, generally trying to not have a baby during the apocalypse and feeling guilty enough to take your own life for feeling responsible.
Two things mark out Train to Busan and that’s its tense atmosphere and its focus on character motivations and emotions. Most characters come in sets and their motivation is often keeping each other safe and alive. We have the central quartet of a pregnant wife and husband and a father/daughter dynamic but beyond that, we have teenage romance, elderly sisters, corporate greedy cats and many others. Each character has some screentime that establishes their dynamic and their character. It rarely feels like something is clunky or rushed and you quickly cheer on most of them as they go from narrow escape to narrow escape. Where the film plays up to slasher horror motifs – and therefore disaster movie etiquette is that slowly they will start to be whittled down. Some of it is pure bad luck, some of it is character trait driven but all of it is meaningful and everyone has some form of goodbye gasp. It’s this character-driven plot that really makes all the high tension all the more palpable and it’s something Hollywood good really learn from. Korea did it first with the stunning The Tower, and now with Train to Busan. Add to that colourful cinematography, epic crowd scenes and some impressive makeup effects and you have one of the best examples of the zombie movie ever made.
South Korea has a very specific way of doing CGI – as does Japan – and it’s less realistic. If you except that they go for a more washed out palette and blur to cover up some of the detail, you’ll be ok. The crowd scenes are a mix of fantastic and slightly cartoony but when its real humans on screen, or small-scale CGI crowds, they are done exceptionally well. The train itself is a character and the way they shoot around it is great. The DVD has a small making of that shows off how they shoot around an enclosed space. Also a shout out to the makeup effects and the way how people contort their bodies in unusual ways. Lastly – best reanimation of a dead deer ever.
Why It’s Worth Watching
I loved the film from start to end. The action kicks off after about six minutes! All the characters are rounded in some way with good and bad traits. The movie’s tone also strikes a wonderful balance between sentimentality and tone that is more approachable for Western audiences too. Often with some other films, there is a gut-wrenching outpouring of emotion only to have some slapstick comedy in the very next scene. Train to Busan stays firmly in the fear, anguish and GTFO territory but when its evil streak kicks in, it knows that everyone needs their send off and at least some kind of reaction from that. There are some genuinely heartbreaking moments that wrecked me – and I was already frayed from all the suspense going on around me. Whilst this comment also ventures into potential spoilers here – I appreciated that there was a proper ending too.
Drink each time you think “NOPE! Get me outta here!” I don’t think I could have survived!
One of the beauties of the film is that there are so many to choose from. I think I’ll go for Su-an Kim who plays the daughters melancholy perfectly. It really is an ensemble cast though with the evil CCO who causes so much death and carnage out of his selfishness bring that guy you love to hate.
This film has a prequel called Soul Station. It’s an animated film that was released the week before Train to Busan and takes place the day before the film does, right at the start of the zombie outbreak. I’ll be buying it for review shortly!
One of the best disaster movies / zombie movies/movie – I have seen in the last few years. Fantastic from start to end – I recommend this one greatly.