Sunday, 6 August 2017

Review #1,230: 'Train to Busan' (2016)

Train to Busan, Sang-ho Yeon's hugely successful South Korean zombie movie, may just be the most effortlessly enjoyable action movie to feature the brain-hungry undead in years. Taking inspiration from the maestro who created the 'zombie' we know and love today, the late, great George A. Romero, as well as Danny Boyle's faster and scarier flesh-eaters, it's a wonderfully constructed and nail-bitingly tense piece, which manages to mix action, horror and a bit of family drama into two hours of pure entertainment. It also finds time to deliver a message amidst the carnage, and one that is perhaps more relevant than ever in these unpredictable times. In the most hopeless of situations, we must ultimately look out for one another if we are to stand a chance of surviving. Train to Busan condemns those who are willing to sacrifice others to save their own necks.

Workaholic fund manager Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) is the kind of father who always seems to be on his phone at important family events. Divorced and single, he occasionally looks after his young daughter Soo-an (Su-an Kim) in the apartment he shares his mother, but pays such little attention to the girl that he buys her a Nintendo Wii for her birthday, forgetting that he got her the same present the previous year. What she really wants for her birthday is to see her mother in Busan, but Seok-woo is so busy at work that he is unable for find the time to accompany her on the 2 hour round-trip. After taking some advice from his mother, he eventually agrees. They arrive at the train station safe and sound, but it's clear that something isn't quite right. Police and ambulance sirens whizz by, people are running in the street, and the news reports show mass unrest and rioting across the country.

Before the train doors shut however, a sickly woman gets on board. She soon collapses and starts to convulse, only for a poor train attendant to tend to her and wound up bitten. It's a big train however, and Train to Busan starts to clearly establish the collection of characters on board. There's a tough husband and his pregnant wife, two elderly sisters, a young cheerleader, a rich and selfish corporate type, and an entire baseball team, who are handily packing many bats in their luggage. Panic soon sets in as the realisation of a zombie apocalypse dawns on the passengers, and with much of the country either in quarantine or overrun by the military trying to fight off the unstoppable hoard, its unclear just where and when they can stop. Seok-woo's intentions are to look out only himself and his daughter, and teaches the seemingly wiser Soon-an the same. But as the situation becomes increasingly dyer, it becomes clear that they are stronger together.

The atmosphere and tension are turned up to the max during some incredibly inventive set-pieces, which often make the most of the most mundane of locations. These are the running, screeching zombies of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, so cramped train carriages are quickly turned into narrow isles of death. As the passengers learn the zombies' weaknesses, such as their inability to work out a door handle or how they quickly forget about you once you're out of site, the darkness of long tunnels become their ally as they journey from A to B. Sang-ho Yeon is careful to keep the social commentary at the fore, highlighting how fear can turn the nicest of people into selfish, despicable monsters, and how important it is to fight out primal instincts in moments of terror. After a fast-paced first hour, the events become somewhat repetitive and the running time could do with some trimming, but it all pays off with a gripping climax. In a time of zombie overkill, Train to Busan still manages to feel fresh.

Directed by: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Yoo Gong, Su-an Kim, Yu-mi Jung, Dong-seok Ma, Woo-sik Choi, Sohee
Country: South Korea

Rating: ****

Tom Gillespie

Train to Busan (2016) on IMDb

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