Train to An Actually Good Zombie Movie
The zombie genre has always been an odd duck in the world of cinema. Like its subject, the genre dies and lives again every couple of years after it’s initial boom of popularity back in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. In recent years however, zombies just won’t go the hell away. According to IMDb, 54 zombie-related flicks premiered in 2014 alone worldwide. Still, 2017 is offering some curious zombie releases that premiered in 2016 from around the world. Britain served up The Girl with All the Gifts, and here comes South Korea with Train to Busan. So how did they fare?
Surprisingly freaking well honestly. Even though I’m not going to try listing actors’ and actress’ names, make no mistake that their acting will make me remember them in anything else I ever see them in. We’ve got a workaholic fund manager living in Seoul, Korea named Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) with an estranged relationship with his daughter, Soo-an (Kim Su-an), who decides to take his daughter to see the girl’s mother in Busan by train. After they depart on their ride with several random individuals you’re going to get to know, the pair find themselves in the middle of a zombie outbreak. For clarity’s sake of the undead classification: we are talking about one-bite, near instantaneous zombification into fast, raging biters that just want to keep spreading the disease. While Seok-Woo is all out for himself and his daughter, the young girl wants to help as much as people as possible putting them on a path with a homeless man (Choi Gwi-hwa), a teenage baseball player (Choi Wook-shik), a baseball cheerleader (Ahn So-hee), a pregnant woman named Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi), and Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) or best dude you want on your team when playing Left 4 Dead.
I had to point out each of the actors’ names for this film despite never hearing of these thespians before because each of them did such an amazing freaking job, that it’d be remiss of me not to acknowledge their respective contributions to this film. These people put as much humanity into their roles as possible, which makes them relatable to you and making you genuinely sad when many of them die in an unromantic, depressing ways. Their personalities is what drives the film forward because they feel like three-dimensional people with their own flaws and strengths as well as hopes in their own personal lives. You share in the survivor’s grief that a member was taken out, especially when they were each given such a wonderful moment to shine.
Of the cast, one of the standouts was definitely the young Soo-an, especially when kid characters in films range the gamut from annoying to profound wastes of time (hello Jurassic World). In Train to Busan, she sidesteps the annoyance game by having a very reasonable of just wanting to see her mother after spending so much time with her forgetful father and not acting like a whiny brat about it. She just looks sad when she sees other people in danger or in pain, and tries to be helpful to a reasonable degree (she’s also not putting herself in danger like a certain character in a zombie television show that shall not be named). And when I say “just looks sad,” that’s not a critique as that is incredibly difficult to pull off convincingly, especially for child actors. Kim Su-an puts as much of herself into the role so when she’s crying, you feel like crying as well.
While the character’s father goes through the biggest and most recognizable arc in the film, I thought he was just fine compared to my favorite character in the movie, Sang-hwa. He’s this sharp-dressed, muscle bound dude who’s just trying to protect his pregnant wife (no small task), while calling other characters out on their bull. Sang-hwa’s world weary, but his snarky tough guy routine enamored me to him when he was demonstrated a selfless heart that makes him immediately likable. Plus, he leads other characters into a full on fist brawl against the zombie hordes as opposed to just straight up killing them with guns and knives.
Actually, that’s a good point: you barely get any zombie-killing action in this film. Makes sense as you spend a considerable amount of time on a train so weapons are more likely to be scarce. So your survivors have to push, punch, and bludgeon their way to safety while running faster than Tom Cruise in any number of his action movies. The zombies themselves may not look like much on screen, but it’s the way they move that makes them so unnerving. The zombification process makes them convulse and twitch like the demon in The Exorcist, and they way they run is so inhuman that it makes your immediate recognition of them as unnatural. Sure they make the same zombie sounds you’ve heard a dozen times before, but these things feel like a tsunami when you see them mash into groups. Similar to the wave effect seen in World War Z, it makes the zombie horde feel more like a natural disaster rather than an army to be conquered; which is the right approach to handling this genre.
Also, like the greats in the zombie genre, the film tries to serve as a metaphor for some other idea. My immediate interpretation made me think of class warfare in Korea as well as governmental incompetence to cover-up how “everything is fine” when everything is screwed seven ways from Sunday. There’s a lot going with how some well-off survivors respond to lower class survivors; as well as our main protagonist played by Gong Yoo realizing his selfish ways that served him well in business has isolated him from his daughter and the rest of humanity. It might sound obvious, but compared to Snowpiercer (which some critics have unfavorably compared this to) this downright subtle. And keep in mind, I freaking LOVE Snowpiercer. It was my favorite film that came out in 2014 that also had a heavy-handed message about class warfare. But sometimes, you NEED films like this to be as obvious as they can with their symbolism so you can understand authorial intent.
I find very little to complain about here except for the length. Oh, not that it’s too long, it just felt too short at two hours. And if my biggest critique about a movie is that I wanted more of it? Well, you can easily see where my opinion is going to go. I’m so disappointed that I wasn’t able to find this in theaters, but now that it’s on Netflix in North America; there’s no excuse to not check this film out. I would’ve gladly paid a theater ticket for this absolutely solid film, so this is getting a…