Movie Review: Train to Busan

Train to Busan is an entertaining zombie flick that stands out in an exhausted genre through an allegorical screenplay, distinctive scare tactics and great performances from its cast.

Train to Busan is a harrowing zombie horror-thriller that follows a group of terrified passengers fighting their way through a countrywide viral outbreak while trapped on a suspicion-filled, blood-drenched bullet train ride to Busan, a southern resort city that has managed to hold off the zombie hordes… or so everyone hopes.

Zombie movies are a dime a dozen, but once in a while something crawls out of the grave that we’ve seen before, but still manages to be distinct.

Somewhere a Hollywood producer is probably thinking, Why didn’t we thought of this before? And we have subways!

If you’re already tired of Hollywood zombie movies that turn the re-animated into digital fodder to stage a heroic journey of some square jawed bankable actor, Train to Busan offers a creative spin on the comatose genre by offering more than just blood and gore.

The simple yet clever script uses the confines of a bullet train, which provides an engaging plot as the characters try to make their way from one infested compartment to the next. Camera work, editing and sound effects combine to create claustrophobic and nerve racking moments instead of being misused for false jolts. Even when outside, the director is able to stage urgent action scenes that are chaotic but not disorienting.

Thankfully, the plot isn’t solely a technical exercise to make the most out of its visual effects budget. The movie makes a couple of jabs at Korean society, from the way people are more pre-occupied by a dirty stowaway passenger than an intruder and the counterproductive effort of the government in stopping people from panicking but turning them into uninformed hapless victims.

The story subverts the genre trope by using an anti-hero – the fund manager Seok Woo just wants to run, save his daughter and reach his estranged wife in Busan. The supporting cast provides an array of characters from different social classes that provides moral conflict and inject some humor into the movie. One old woman decides to turn the tables on other selfish survivors by avenging her selfless friend.

This combination of a simple yet smart premise, wisely built-up tension, well-staged action, great performances, and believable characters deliver a solid blockbuster movie that will surely (and unfortunately) find its way to Hollywood’s remake pile.

Halfway through the movie makes a few stumbles. The emotional elements gets melodramatic, to the point that it violates its own rules for a couple of heart wrenching scenes. It’s hard to believe that a few dedicated whacks to the head will stop any of the zombies. The second half does get a bit silly with its cartoonish undead.

On the other hand, these flaws are compensated by a movie that does more than what its supposed to do. Train to Busan delivers unpretentious fun with compelling elements that makes it more than just your average zombie flick. It’s decision to focus on the characters and keep the cataclysmic event in the background result into blockbuster movie that make you care.

As Seok Woo realizes that cooperation and altruism is the way to survive, the movie not only makes a social commentary about Korean society, but also on mankind as well. If we want to survive as people instead of existing as single-minded meat sacks in a post-apocalyptic world, we need to take care of each other.

My Rating: 8/10


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