Film Review: Train To Busan

First Class Horror

For many reasons 2016 has been a horrific year, but weirdly enough a great year for horror. No doubt seeping up from the infected pool of global stress, fear and panic perpetuated by the relentless dark rain of mass media. As is the norm, the arts are going to dip into that fear reservoir, that seam of anxiety that threads us all, exposing our demons, our sins, our mortality and it’s going to slowly glitchy creep up out of that well with some lank greasy bed hair and dispatch us to the other side.

It doesn’t have to always be the case, but some of the best horrors have an ingredient of social commentary, emphasising the current la peur du jour. Whether it be communism, the unknown, the death of religion, frankenscience experiments or merely foreigners there is a myriad of topics being fanned to create discomfort, and of course a handy side effect being a more malleable population.


Another handy tactic of the genre is confining the story to a small space, be it a house in the woods, scientific arctic base or obviously as in the case of the VERY excellent ‘Train To Busan’ (2016) by South Korean director Yeon Sang-ho who also wrote the screen play.

The premise is train track straight forward enough in an outbreak that Rage like (‘28 Days Later’, 2002) swiftly spreads throughout a city. Seok Woo (Gong Yoo) is a hedge fund manager with seemingly no redeeming qualities at all in his self consumer world. As a result of this he’s also going through a divorce which is having ill effect on his relationship with his young daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) whose mum now lives in Busan, an hour KTX train ride away.

Seok’s old mother dutifully helps look after the daughter while her son spends most of his time working and buying flash gifts to compensate for his continuing absence, but of course you can’t buy love, or time.

Thankfully there’s an highly infectious disease which has just been released to help get everyone to get their focus back on the priorities, ie running as fast as you bloody can, as these aren’t the moody kicking empty coke can teenage zombies, these are the love child of Usain Bolt and Mike Tyson zombies that are VERY fast, VERY nibbly and VERY angry.

It may all sound familiar enough, like the plethora of undead series and films about the subject are spreading, well like the zombies. But they don’t always have bite. Where ‘Train To Busan’ excels above the vast majority is the wanton joy of the whole journey. It has wonderful shades of 70s disaster movies such as ‘The Towering Inferno’ (1974), ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ (1972), ‘Airport ‘77’ (1977) and many others where the initial moments of the movie set up the various characters and groups of folk who are funnelling together about to embark on a horrific adventure. This time allows us emotively to invest in the individuals and their backgrounds.

As the train departs, little do they passengers know that the city has already succumbed to a very violent death, but also that one of the infected has boarded the train, and horrifically enough, without buying a ticket.

train to busan

Some folk have to capacity to change and rise to the occasion, and some don’t, even if that change is being forced upon them, What ensues is a beautiful and very well written dynamic of interactions between strangers where they have to help each other to survive, or indeed sacrifice out of selfishness, self preservation. All the acting is fantastic, and at times very very funny. It’s the constant and very well timed changing of pace that has huge stress spliced with calmer moments that brings levity, but also seems to increase the tension because you know what’s going on in the next carriage.

The whole thing is brilliantly paced, with a vast amount of very original excellent set pieces peppered along the way, that at once make complete sense and are rational actions in complete contrast to alot of films where the characters do really stupid things enabling their downfall, which of course is lazy writing.

As mentioned there are notes of social commentary, what it is to be a parent (or be human) in such a self absorbed consumer world, government propaganda, corporate dictatorships/corruption, witch hunting and the evident drift away from caring for our fellow person when that’s what will ultimately save us. But above all the film is just fantastic fun. It looks wonderful, great soundtrack, superb character actors wholly inhabiting their roles (however short that might be) and it’s an intelligent, clever delight.

‘Train To Busan’ is out now.

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