Train to Busan (Bu-San-Haeng) is a South Korean zombie flick set aboard a high-speed bullet train. It’s what Snowpiercer might have been had Snowpiercer been any good. Actually, it has a lot more in common with The Host (Gwoemul), also from the director of Snowpiercer, with its central conflict of a regular family threatened by other-worldly adversity.
In Sang-ho Yeon’s film (another South Korean director!), Yoo Gong plays a self-centered funds manager who’s reluctantly taking his young daughter (Soo-an Kim) to stay with his ex-wife in Busan. As they’re leaving the station, an Infected staggers aboard. Unbeknownst to our hapless passengers there’s a zombie virus playing out in Seoul and the surrounding countryside… and all hell is about to break loose.
That’s it, and it’s a riot.
Writer/director Yeon takes the standard zombie tropes and steps everything up a notch with sympathetic characters, classy plot twists, and occasional dollops of humor which go a long way in offsetting much of the otherwise off-putting zombie carnage. The zombies themselves are nasty, scary, and cool, snapping and twitching and gurgling with the requisite rabid desire to feed. “Rabid” is how someone refers to them in the film; it gives them a little more cred than simply undead.
The film barrels along and it’s to the director’s credit that his two-hour film rarely hits a lull. When it does, there’s something to be learned, some small familial moment to be savored, before the neck bitings and head clubbings and hand slammings start up again. In addition to our “hero” Seok Woo and his daughter Soo-an there’s a pregnant woman (of course) with her burly husband, a teenaged baseball team fronted by a feisty cheerleader, an elderly bickering couple, and the train’s corporate brass… who will prove influential in the final bid for survival.
Train to Busan is a bit corny in places, but before you can even consider rolling your eyes the action starts up again, skillfully choreographed in close and claustrophobic quarters. Whip-smart and thrillingly delivered, Sang-ho Yeon’s film is a rousing, crowd pleaser of the highest order. It’s the very definition of a mondo midnight movie—magic.
(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth