Possible spoilers ahead!
“Train to Busan” is a movie I didn’t know anything about until I read Guillermo del Toro’s Twitter feed, and he said he loved it, and everyone should see it. And boy, was del Toro right!
“Train to Busan” is a South Korean zombies-on-a-train epic from director Bong Joon-ho, who also directed the 2006 film, “The Host.” His zombie fest takes place on bullet train and features incredible physical action, a ton of social satire, and even some sentimental drama will break your heart.
In the film, Marshal law is declared when a mysterious viral outbreak pushes Korea into a state of emergency. Those on an express train to Busan, a city that has successfully fended off the viral outbreak, must fight for their own survival.
The main character is workaholic fund manager Seok-wu (Gong Yoo), who is taking his estranged young daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) on the KTX high-speed train to Busan to visit his ex-wife. The last person to hop on the train is a teenage girl whose bare thighs are crisscrossed with bulging veins. But the passengers and train crew are more concerned over the homeless man they find hiding out in one of the bathrooms. Soon, the infected girl claims her first victim, a train employee trying to help her. Now the action surges ahead with exhilarating mayhem.
Unlike most heroes in these kind of movies, Seok-wu does not take charge or puts himself in the line of fire. Instead, he acts on his elitist, self-preserving instincts, telling Su-an off for giving her seat to an older woman, and shutting the door on escaping passengers, Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and his pregnant wife Sung-kyu (Jung Yu-mi). He even calls a contact in the military to see if they can airlift him and his daughter off the train.
The rest of the cast features a pair of high school lovebirds on a school trip, two deeply affectionate elderly sisters, and the homeless dude who we soon learn is quite a selfless guy. The only other villain comes in the form of a middle-aged corporate weasel (Kim Eui-sang) who is a calculating coward, with an ability to incite the other passengers into a mob mentality.
There’s a massive amount of action in this movie, and if you’ve seen any Korean films, then you know their action sequences are brilliant. Even the way the zombies move was different, and the way the would sort of “snap” at first was unique, and frightening at the same time.
The film’s emotional connection comes from the young daughter Su-an, and the way she interacts with the other survivors. It is through her that we experience the terror this people are going through. But it is also through her that we experience the feeling of hope.
The action and the performances are well served by a script that keeps you on the edge of your seat with unpredictable moments, which constantly shift between nerve-racking and hilarious. Take for example, the moment Seok-wu hears his mother zombifying over the phone while still bitching about her daughter-in-law.
Since much of “Train to Busan” takes place in the confined space of a train, you’d think the action would feel small, but it doesn’t. Despite the limited amount of room, Busan still features excellent use what the train offers: bathrooms become battlegrounds and sanctuaries, sliding doors become useful tools, and even the tunnels the train travels through become key in the battle against the zombies.
“Train to Busan” is non-stop thrill ride, and one of the best zombie movies I have seen. I would even ranke it higher than 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” which is pretty good movie. Point is, I loved everything about “Train to Busan,” and if I had seen it before writing my top 10 movies of 2016, Busan would have easily made the top three.
“Train to Busan” score: A+