Train to Busan
We live in a time when Americans are sharply divided, as news outlets insist on reminding us in this polarized election cycle. Maybe a good zombie infestation is what it will take to bring the country together again. It works, to some extent, for a train full of disparate Koreans in
Young and old, rich and poor, men and women must put aside their differences and band together against a horde of the recently deceased, or infected, or something. Details are sketchy. The film opens with inspectors stopping a truck to spray it down as it passes through a tollbooth. The driver is told, “There was a tiny leak at the biotech district” before being sent on his way. An ominous note is thus struck, then underscored by the truck’s collision with a deer shortly thereafter. Bummer — only the deer won’t stay dead.
writer-director, Yeon Sang-ho, wraps the film’s narrative around a parent-child relationship. Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is a hedge-fund manager in Seoul who is separated from his wife and too preoccupied with work to pay much attention to his daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an). As a way of making up for his failings as a father, Seok-woo agrees to take time off to accompany Su-an on a trip to see her mother in the coastal city of Busan. They board the train just as incidents like the one involving the deer are spreading, with mobs of reanimated corpses setting upon the living. Inevitably, the malady reaches the passenger compartments.
Horror always works best in confined spaces, and the cars of the Korea Train Express from Seoul to Busan, narrow and separated only by slidingglass doors, provide the perfect backdrop for the mounting terror. The cinematography and direction expertly convey a visceral sense of danger here. The infected spill over each other in roiling waves, broken limbs flailing, eyes glazed, mouths wide and scarlet. The recently bitten lift and spin into action like breakdancers, herky-jerky. They are relentless.
Train to Busan is Yeon’s live-action feature debut. His previous efforts King of Pigs (2011) and (2013) garnered festival buzz and established the filmmaker’s reputation for candidly addressing disturbing material in animation, which makes the sometimes saccharine tone of
surprising. The sinking feeling of society descending into panic, chaos, and violence — the emotional core of the best zombie flicks — is undercut by the predictable tale of Seok-woo’s personal reckoning with his inadequacy as a father. On the other hand, the film’s sincerity and lack of cool, polished heroes is somewhat refreshing, given the way such material is handled in Hollywood. Tacked onto movies hitting multiplexes now is a trailer for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the latest in the series of zombie-bashers derived from the popular video games. It’s another focus-group tested, committee-designed product brought to you by the sequel-driven corporate movie machine. At least the zombies in Yeon’s film are in front of the camera. — Jeff Acker