The first act establishes a few of the main players of the narrative – namely, a business-minded father who promises to accompany his daughter to Busan so she can spend her birthday with his estranged wife. It becomes apparent quite early on that we are in for a very impressive performance by Soo-an Kim who plays the young girl – no doubt she will be a star in more than the handful of films that she has already appeared in.
The father and daughter board said train just as some unrest is unfolding at the top of the stairs leading down to the platform. As they are pulling away from the platform and beginning the long journey, Soo-an catches a brief glimpse out of the window of what appears to be a man jumping at the signal man on the platform alongside the train. The journey begins, and unfortunately for all on board, someone is travelling without a ticket.
As the passengers onboard the luxury locomotive watch live scenes of ‘civil unrest in major cities’ on the rolling news, we are briefly introduced to another handful of pivotal characters in preparation for what is about to unfold. Some quite nasty scenes follow and you find yourself in the middle of the human psychological battle between strength and bravery, and cowardly fear. I found that as the events progressed the characters that I thought I liked near the beginning, I was liking less and less. Equally, some of the characters I didn't care much for grew on me.
Throughout, there are some gripping and suspenseful scenes, and – with one scene in particular where there is a brief disembarkment from the train at a station in a reportedly safe city, you find yourself questioning how things could possibly get worse than the situation you see before you. Needless to say, that question is often brutally answered, and you find yourself urging the passengers to get back on the bloody train, or quickly move their backsides to the next carriage.
This connection with the characters is something that I have only previously felt in some of the ‘classic’ Western zombie films, as you witness the struggles for human survival. What this excellent example of Asian horror does, is invest enough screen time to get to know the characters long enough to care for them – with some great acting performances – and even change your opinion of them as you see them react to the situation around them. Of course, this isn't at the expense of the zombie-related action. You will laugh, wince, cheer, sympathise and you will absolutely loathe some of the characters, and this is something quite tough to achieve as the writer/director has brilliantly done here.
In closing, Train to Busan is a well-balanced and sometimes emotional film that keeps the action coming and rarely gives you a breather before the next wave of shit-storm blows in. An excellent South Korean horror export that is all the more impressive in that – as can sometimes be the case with world horror cinema – not much is lost in translation. You don’t even question the fact that everyone on the train gets a seat!
By Andreas Charalambous - 10th October 2016
I’ve always been a fan of films in imaginative locations. In a time where we have films that involve snakes on a plane – like we saw in Snakes on a Plane – the onslaught of terrorism in a huge skyscraper (Die Hard) or a warship (Under Siege), I’ve always liked the backdrop being the stalwart of public transport that is the train.
There was something about such films as Unstoppable, Terror Train, Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, Horror Express, and even Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, that I thoroughly enjoyed. I think it's the idea of the location being on a pre-determined route that ventures through remote locations and the entire plot is played out by the cast within a long confined space, making you wonder whether the characters’ time comes before the end of the track they are hurtling along. Needless to say, when I heard about a zombie film set on just such a location, I was very interested indeed in how it would unfold.
Train to Busan is a South Korean film written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon, which offers an innovative take on the modern zombie film, and it all takes place on a train… to Busan!