What a ride! This zombie-apocalypse-horror-thriller-drama film took me on a roller-coaster of emotions: from happy surprised to dramatic sobbing. This mix of genres is not something unique of the film itself, but a well-known characteristic of contemporary South Korean films. However, what is interesting about Train to Busan is that it’s the first Korean zombie horror production that had such an incredible success, setting a box-office record of $5.76 million (approx. €5.45 million) on its opening day in July. Recently, it was also revealed that this film is going to have a remake in Hollywood by the French studio Gaumont.
Train to Busan is directed and written by Yeon Sang-ho, whose name became known in international film festivals for his animations films The King of Pigs (Dwae-ji-ui wang; 돼지의 왕; 2011) that screened at the 2012 Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival, and The Fake (Saibi; 사이비; 2013), which won Best Animation Awards at the Sitges Film Festival and Gijón International Film Festival.
Train to Busan starts with a hint of what is going to happen: zombies. As a viewer, you know the whole time that something is going to occur any time soon, but first we are introduced to the workaholic fund manager Seok-woo (played by Gong Yoo) who forgets his daughter’s birthday – Su-an (played by Kim Su-an). She wants to return to her mother’s place in Busan. After feeling guilty for not being a good father, Seok-woo decides to take her back home. The next morning they embark on an unexpected journey, as someone who is infected boards the train without being noticed. Slowly but firmly the tension builds up through Jang Young-gyu’s music, and the voraciousness of the zombies and camera movements.
While Seok-woo is asleep, Su-an decides to walk around in the train and use the toilet. The toilet is a place that re-appears in the story as a shelter. Meanwhile, the camera presents the other small but powerful (male) characters that will give the story this hilarious touch and K-drama sadness. Together they will fight for their survival, but not everyone will collaborate.
The zombie outbreak seems to increase, as their only hope is to arrive in Busan, a quarantine zone. The main heroes have to go a la Snowpiercer and move from the back to the front of the train in order to save their beloved ones and get in a safe train car.
Train to Busan is not just an entertaining film, but it is also critical. The film questions the long working hours that people face, who seem to be just a ‘cash machine’ working for the future of their kids and losing quality time with them. The film also suggests that on your own, you cannot win. You have to collectively collaborate, as the protagonists join forces to help each other and other passengers who are weaker, for example an old lady, a pregnant women, and a child. There are several topics that the film addresses, such as selfishness, collective thinking, old age, and class division, but feminism is not one of them, as the portrayal of women is still of a passive and helpless person who has to be rescued. Nevertheless, Train to Busan is a thrilling zombie film, that will leave your heart beating faster, your eyes swollen, and wanting more (in that case, check out Seoul Station 서울역, the animation prequel that was released in August 2016).
Original Title: 부산행 (Busanhaeng)
Image: Screenshot Train to Busan – Horrified the protagonists witness the killing of other passengers.