Train To Busan is a Korean horror film directed by Yeon Sang-Ho and released in the summer of 2016. It hit the world by surprise and its success reached far beyond Korean borders.
Seok-Woo is a fund manager in Seoul. Separated from his wife, he lives with his mother and daughter Soo-An. Seok-Woo is a workhaolic who doesn’t pay uch attention to his daughter. For her birthday, Soo-An asks to go see her mother in Busan. Seok-Woo has no other choice but to accompany her from Seoul to Busan. As they board the train, an infection spreads like wildfire turning the passengers into flesh-hungry zombies. They, along with a group of survivors, must fight for their lives, as Seok-Woo comes to realize what matters the most in life.
Train To Busan is a breath of fresh air in a genre that has become a low-budget farce. The attention given to crafting the excellent action scenes does not deprive the film of a fundamental aspect : character development. While a bit stereotypical, the main characters are worth caring about. Seok-Woo is entirely focused on his career and emotionally neglects his daughter, believing that providing for her and buying her expensive gifts is enough. However, while an evidently flawed character, he is depicted in such a balanced way that he doesn’t come across as a bad father. He is just a confused parent who doesn’t understand what his child needs most (his attention, not his wealth). The other father of the film (a passenger travelling with his pregnant wife) is also a loveable character and the complete opposite of Seok-Woo thus creating interesting interactions between the two.
The performances are stellar, from the main cast to the extras. Gong Yoo carries the film and gives a touching performance. Soo-An Kim is also impressive, especially given her young age. She is never overracting as it is often the case with child actors. Her interations with Gong Yoo made them absolutely believable as father and daughter. The extras portraying the zombies don’t go unnoticed either. They are ferocious and their body contorsions increase their scary nature. They’re among the best zombies I have seen on screen in a long time.
The majority of the film takes place on the train (with a few scenes in train stations). This location could have presented limitations for the action sequences but Yeon Sang-Ho cleverly uses every inch of the train to deliver complex, intense and well-constructed action scenes. One of the most impressive scenes consists in Seok-Woo, Sang-Hwa and Yong-Guk (the young baseball player) making their way through zombie-infected train cars to reunite with their loved ones. The scene brilliantly balances exciting action and breath-holding thrills. All the action scenes are excellent, thrilling and intense and the third act really shines in its scope, delivering epic sequences.
The social commentary effectively enhances the message of the film but is slightly too manichaean. There is no grey area and the film portrays the rich and powerful as corrupt and only achieving a high level of success by crushing others. The best example is the hateful CEO (designed for one purpose only : being hated) who has no redeeming qualities, is selfish and evil and spends the film endangering others.
Our main character, however, is the one who goes on a moral journey. By the third act, he finally understands what matters most and watching him evolve throughout the film is very endearing.
Finally, I disagree with the critics who claimed some plot elements are purely tear-jerking tools and manipulative drama. On the contrary, I found those scenes not only well-balanced but also necessary to highlight the tragedy of what is happening.
From the opening sequence to the end credits, your eyes will be glued to the screen. Train To Busan modernized a saturated genre and might just be the best zombie film of the past ten years !