Movie Review : Train to Busan (2016)
Every couple years, the internet goes crazy for a foreign genre movies like a 12 year-old in love and this movie will seldom feature a train, for some reason. People love trains. Last time it happened, it was for the perfectly adequate yet telegraphed Snowpiercer which I couldn't help but feel slightly underwhelmed with. The internet hype train * was back in 2016 for a Korean movie titled Train to Busan, which promised to be everything The Walking Dead wasn't. Is this movie any good, though? What is with people on the internet and trains? I've watched Train to Busan and let me tell you: it's once again perfectly adequate, but you need a major zombie boner in order to truly enjoy this.
A boner I lost sometime in 2012.
Train to Busan is the story of hedge fund manager and title holder of worst dad in the world Seok-woo (Yoo Gong), who fucked up and bought his daughter's love with a Wii two times in a row. In order to make up for his inept parenting, the aforementioned daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) requests a trip to Busan to visit her estranged mother for her birthday. Because Soo-an is a decent child despite everything (this is important). Caught red handed being shitty, Seok-woo has no choice but to acquiesce to his daughter's request and book the trip, which would've been a straightforward affair if it didn't occur during the freakin' zombie apocalypse. Being caught in a train full of people with a zombie virus that spreads quicker than Chlamydia might not have anything to do with shitty parenting, but it forces you out of your comfort zone to survive!
The great thing about The Walking Dead is that is derailed ** the zombie craze of greedy studio executive. It absorbed his about every creative angle you could use to zombie apocalypse narratives like Wal-Mart absorbs small businesses when it settles in a new city. What makes Train to Busan unique and mildly exciting is that it doesn't try to outdo The Walking Dead at anything. It doesn't try to be deeper, more meaningful or more brutal. It's just one long kinetic bad trip. Writer and director Sang-ho Yeon conveys emotion with immediacy and urgency because death is always 18 seconds away. The characters of Train to Busan don't philosophize about humanity because they're constantly busy not getting their fucking face eaten and there's an undeniable charm about it. It feels like a George Romero movie on cocaine and, as far as zombie apocalypses goes, it's the perfect counterpoint to the all-encompassing Walking Dead.
So, Train to Busan is a series of frenetic runs, discussions between complete strangers over the best possible course of action for immediate survival, zombies that sprint really fast and characters who turn into zombies and start sprinting towards the remaining protagonists really fast. It's that kind of movie where things are just rolling *** without leaving you time to think. It's fast, intense and claustrophobic. Even in public spaces, there are so many zombies coming at the protagonists from everywhere, it's panicking at shit and somehow always forces the characters back into that goddamn train. I guess the title doesn't lie about what kind of film it is. It's merely a little longer than the actual train ride to Busan (I believe it was said to be an hour long. Seok-woo is originally planning to go back to work the same day) and it's pretty much what you're getting. It's slickly executed and doesn't rely on either cheap emotional manipulation or shock value to get your attention, it's not really a movie that's full of surprises.
That said, I want to slip a quick word about the oddly entertaining morals of that movie. A typical American movie would've pitted the protagonist (a good, righteous man in a tough situation) against an immediate threat (the embodiment of evil itself), but it's not the case here. Train to Busan's protagonist Seok-woo is very flawed and is put into a situation that unfairly exploits that flaw (selfishness). In a world where everybody can turn into a mindless cannibal in mere seconds, the only way you can assure your loved ones don't turn into that is by watching over them and the idea of "loved ones" can quickly turn into "the ones that are left" when you can become zombified faster than Michael Jackson takes to get through the chorus of Thriller. Train to Busan was brazenly honest in that regard and it made the movie more interesting than it should've been to me. It challenged the narrow-mindedness of conventional Hollywoodian morals in a simple and brilliant way.
So, there you have it. Train to Busan is undoubtedly good and by that I mean it delivers zombie-themed scares competently. There's nothing inherently new about it, but if you're looking for zombie scares (and I don't know why you'd be looking for them right now) this will get the job done. It's a serviceable zombie movie if you'll allow me the expression. Don't let the internet railroad **** you into watching it, though. You have seen similar movies before and you will see similar movies in the future. If your zombie boner is still alive in 2017, though this might get you going a little further out of sheer contrast with The Walking Dead alone.
* pun intended.
** I can't stop myself.
**** SOMEBODY, STOP ME!