As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t necessarily indicative of their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little Late To The Party.
The zombie subgenre makes for some of the most strangely compelling horror movies, and Train to Busan perfectly proves why. Society’s collective fascination with the apocalypse, particularly when it’s brought about by the undead, is a curious thing. The fear of loss combined with an innate willingness to prepare or prevent is probably a part of it, but it also seems to spark the imaginations of audiences everywhere. It seems that the perversion of life into rabid undeath is something that’s as gripping as it is horrifying.
With so many zombie stories out there, it’s important to offer something new. Zombieland brought comedy along with its horror, and 28 Days Later delved into the nature of its zombies. Train to Busan offers something a little different, though: an examination of class warfare and the responsibilities of parenthood.
The film follows a young fund manager and inattentive father named Seok-woo as he sets out to take his daughter to see her mother. However, as they embark on their trip, a zombie virus spreads, and they find themselves trapped on a moving train with a horde of monsters. To protect his daughter, Seok-woo must band together with other survivors, which forces him to learn some tough lessons about personal and social responsibility.
Train To Busan Examines Korea’s Class Divide – It May Not Be Original, But It’s Still Great
The examination of South Korea’s class divide is hardly untrodden ground. Parasite might be the best recent example of how it can be explored in film, but Train to Busan makes a sound attempt. Likewise, survivors turning on one another isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s one that heightens the drama that Train to Busan offers, and it lends the story some crucial added depth.
Perhaps Train to Busan‘s most interesting innovation is combining a zombie-horror story with a tale about parenthood and social conscience. The blending of these ideas helps to keep them feeling fresh, even though it doesn’t narratively offer anything entirely original. Through competent filmmaking, it simply doesn’t matter that the subtext isn’t new – it’s a thoroughly entertaining film, so it works.
Train To Busan Makes Zombie Action Subtly Realistic
One of the film’s best but easiest-to-miss innovations lies in its action. It’s hardly an action movie, and that’s perfect – it’s far more relatable that way. Its characters seem like real people trying desperately to survive, and its zombies are appropriately brainless. This makes most of the action about eluding or tricking the zombies rather than attacking them head-on. Ultimately, it’s tenser seeing people physically holding the zombies at bay rather than firing endless amounts of bullets at them.
The use of fragile barriers like glass doors is another excellent way that Train to Busan builds tension. Its characters must make do with their surroundings, and it feels far more realistic that way. It’s just a handful of people desperately trying to survive however they can, and it makes for gut-wrenching edge-of-the-seat viewing.
Train To Busan Is Far From Perfect, But It’s Still A Lot Of (Horrible) Fun
Train to Busan isn’t without a few minor issues. Its characters eventually fade into vague archetypes, and as the film goes on, logic begins to fray around the edges. There are one or two minor nagging plot holes that are difficult to ignore, and the death of Seok-woo was entirely preventable. These are all very small problems, but they ultimately prevent Train to Busan from being a perfect film.
This is a shame, as practically everything about the film is done right. It’s brilliantly conceived and perfectly designed, and its cast of talented actors is able to suitably balance emotion and action. There’s very little not to love about Train to Busan – even for its imperfections, it’s one of the best zombie films ever made.
Summary: Despite a few nagging minor issues, Train to Busan is utterly brilliant. Its zombie action is well-considered, and its emotional drama is deeply touching. It’s thoroughly well-made, and it proves that the zombie genre deserves to be about far more than just survival.
Highlight: Kim Su-an’s performance as Seok-woo’s daughter is outstanding. The young actor provides a staggeringly visceral turn that makes her stand out even in a film this good.