Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Writer: Park Joo-suk
Cast: Gong Yoo
A few years ago I forced a great friend of mine to go to the movies with me and watch the film Snowpiercer. The film, which was helmed by the Korean director Bong Joon-ho, took place entirely on a train where the characters had to make their way through multiple compartments and undertake a journey with the goal of reaching the front of the train. The movie was awesome (my friend hates dystopian movies and could not appreciate its genius). Train to Busan borrows heavily from Snowpiercer, which is clearly a point of reference, in its structure and style.
Train to Busan is an apocalyptic zombie movie that largely takes place, as the title suggests, on a train. The film opens focusing on a father and his daughter in Seoul, South Korea. The man (Gong Yoo) is a fund manager and the girl is about to celebrate her birthday. All she wants is to spend the day with her mother, who is estranged from her husband, in the southern port city of Busan. The young girl is undeterred, even though her father tries to change her mind, in the end agreeing to transport his daughter on the ride down by train. As the two are getting settled in their first class seats a young women runs in right before the train doors close. She is in pain and is clearly suffering, very quickly turning into something dangerous – an infection has taken hold of her.
The action thus begins, unrelenting its thrills for the remainder of the movie. Very quickly the infected girl attacks a train attendant, who in turn attacks some of the passengers, and thus the train is quickly overtaken by zombies. Soon a faction of survivors forms who must make it out alive. Joining the aforementioned father and daughter are a working class husband with a pregnant wife, a young baseball player and his love interest, a callous business man, the train conductor, a couple of old ladies, and a surviving train attendant. The film tends to border or fall directly into cliche after cliche very often (guess who the bad guy turns out to be?), and while Snowpiercer is clearly an inspiration, this movie is nowhere near as inventive or great, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun or without its positives.
The acting, especially by Gong Yoo, is very good. He is a very expressive actor and does an excellent job at running through so many emotions. The movie is mostly fast paced, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. There are some violent and bloody scenes, but that is to be expected when watching a zombie movie. I particularly liked the film’s attempt to expand on the zombie mythology by making them blind when the train goes through a tunnel. It was a nice touch. The film does struggle with pacing, though. In an effort to clue the audience in to the mental and emotional state of the characters there are times when the action pauses for an awkward and uncomfortable amount of time. As viewers we are not dumb, we know the character is supposed to be afraid, and with a zombie attacking we do not need to see them pause to show fear before moving into action – it just makes for an unrealistic sequence. Additionally, the film awkwardly tries to make some sort of commentary on class in Korea, but it falls apart and does so extremely clumsily. The father is a fund manager, but he needs the help of the burly working class hero (who, spoiler alert, single handedly saves everyone by sacrificing himself) in order to keep his daughter safe. Only by seeing his daughter in danger does the business man find his humanity (as opposed to the cowardly selfish business man who becomes the primary antagonist). As I said, the film is definitely not reinventing the wheel.
All in all the movie keeps your interest and does exactly what it promises to do, nothing more and nothing less. It is definitely a fun ride, just not for the passengers on this particular train!