Train to Busan Review - All Aboard the Zombie Express

Summary and Review of Train to Busan

Gong Yoo: Seok-Woo
Su-an Kim: Soo-An Ma Dong-seok: Sang-hwa Jung Yu-mi: Seong-kyeong
Director: Sang-ho Yeon Release: 2016

The opening scenes show the South Korean authorities responding to a hazardous incident at an industrial plant by imposing a quarantine zone. A truck driver passing through hits and kills a deer in the road, only for it to twitch and spring back to life, but not as we know it and it doesn't take a genius to work out what comes next.

Cutting back to Seoul, we are introduced to Seok-Woo, a successful fund manager, who thinks mainly about making money and of himself. He is separated from his wife and has custody of their daughter, Soo-an. Although he loves her, Seok-Woo is too preoccupied with his work to pay attention to Soo-an’s emotional needs and when she is desperate to visit her mother in Busan for a birthday treat, he is initially reluctant but relents as he feels guilty for missing her school recital. And so, father and daughter set off on the ill-fated Train to Busan.

As the passengers settle into their seats, it’s clear that there is mayhem in the city from news reports about unexplained and escalating outbreaks of violence, shown on the onboard TVs. The voices of authority urge the passengers to remain calm and assure them that they are not in danger, even when events clearly show otherwise.

Things escalate quickly when a sick woman slips onboard unnoticed and “turns”, sending waves of zombie chaos crashing through the train. As dozens of passengers succumb to the onslaught, some are canny or lucky enough to be able to avoid the terror and naturally these survivors, including Seok-Woo and Soo-an, band together to find their way out of the catastrophe in one piece.

Much of the narrative unfolds on board and the plot requires the group to enter zombie infested carriages, generating creative ways of advancing without being chewed to death. There are occasions when events take place beyond the claustrophobic confines of the train, and these open spaces provide an environment where the action really gets going, with zombie pile-ups, bouncing bodies and chases aplenty. There isn’t a huge amount of gore but there‘s enough, and the emphasis is more on the anticipation of what comes next.

I found myself rooting for this intrepid band, urging them to overcome the odds and the different characters all contributed to drive the narrative along nicely. Sang-Hwa was particularly likeable. The big dope with more muscles than brains, looking forward to the birth of his first child, highlighting Seok-Woo’s lack of sensitivity towards his own daughter.

I usually baulk at a 2 hour run time for a horror film, but this didn’t seem long at all and bowled along at a fair old tempo. The pacing was well-thought out, with periods of breathtaking action, punctuated by moments of relative calm; just enough to compose yourself before it all kicks off again.

Train to Busan has undertones of social commentary around greed, selfishness and distrust of the authorities but it doesn’t place it centre stage and remains true to its purpose as an action horror with Seok-Woo and Soo-an’s relationship (and what it really takes to be a good father), at its core. There are strong performances from the cast and Su-an Kim is great as the neglected little girl who misses her dad, a man who manages to dig deep and demonstrate the father that he could have and should have been. 

This isn’t just a rip-roaring adventure, It’s a zombie film with a heart that really makes you feel something. Towards the end, there was potential for Train to Busan to tip into the realms of sentimentality but skillful writing and direction avoided this and it broke your heart instead. 

If you’re a fan of zombie flicks but have somehow missed this, check it out at the earliest opportunity. If you’re not a fan of the genre, then my advice is the same. Get on board and enjoy the ride.



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