Last year Yeon Sang-Ho’s animated horror Seoul Station plotted the course of a viral outbreak in South Korea with solid, but not groundbreaking, results. The hype for Sang-Ho’s debut live-action film has been unparalleled and the reviews overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Thankfully its deserved.
Seok-Woo (Yoo Gong- Age of Shadows) is a self-serving businessman with little time for his young daughter, yet for her birthday he reluctantly agrees to a cross-country trip to visit his estranged wife. Whilst the two travel on a speeding train, the nation is torn apart by a violent and rapid infection which reduces the population to a hungry mass.
Sang-Ho isn’t looking to rebuild the genre, but he’s clearly aware of what audiences have seen and navigates his apocalyptic thriller will a careful eye. Train to Busan isn’t a genre-stomper, but it is the big-budget super-size zombie adventure we’ve all been waiting for. Those who were disappointed by World War Z’s laclustre pop at global terror will appreciate the scale of Busan’s action. But scale isn’t enough. WWZ taught us that country-hopping sounds fun but, like a dodgy Bond installment, can leave a film feeling like a showreel as opposed to a cohesive story. Train to Busan offers a series of gripping set-pieces without ever feeling try-hard. If you start to get bored of the whole wave of zombies on a train thing, its ok, Sang-Ho has it covered.
Like Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer, Train to Busan offers a steady stream of varied train-bound thrills with a great collection of characters. It’s an effects-laden trip that constantly evolves its scenario like a video game; taking us from problem to problem, shifting its setting whenever things start to get stale. Just when you think you might be bored of carriage-bound carnage, its station time. Which of course has its own problems.
There’s a few little inconsistencies which will peeve the wary viewer but nothing that really derails enjoyment. An early shot reveals a tidal wave of zombies perhaps a bit too soon but that’s an editing issue more than anything. Similarly, some of the CGI looks a bit papery, but the sheer size of what it’s trying to render makes up. The same can be said of the film’s gore.
One of the big issues with World War Z was its desperation to appease PG-13 audiences. The utter lack of gore reduced a potentially vicious zombie flick to something clean and digital. Train to Busan shakes off this family-friendly vibe with truly vicious zombie work but the same level of gore. Like Seoul Station, the zombs here are somewhere between 28 Days Later’s rage-victims and the flesh eating fiends of traditional horror lore; leaping in and out of the frame with animalistic enthusiasm. Blood spatters are used well but the film never gives in to gore-hounding, never gives us the stretch and snap of chewed skin or organs. Train to Busan honestly might have perfected PG-13 horror.
A rip-roaring adventure with its eyes set on flashy fast-paced horror, and meaty moral dilemma, Train to Busan is an incredibly impressive debut feature and a genre-highlight.
Dir. Yeon Sang-ho
Stars: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Dong-seok Ma, Eui-Sung Kim