TRAIN TO BUSAN
Directed by: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jeong, Dong Seok-ma, Woo-Sik Choi
Seok Woo, a busy executive, has watched his marriage fail from a distance and now Soo-an, his young daughter is slipping away too. Finally giving in to her wishes, Seok Woo agrees to take her on the rapid express to Busan to be with her mother for a while. However, just as the train is about to leave, a twitchy, injured woman gets on board - unbeknownst to the passengers, a zombie outbreak has occurred and soon many of them will be victims. - and Seok Woo and Soo-an are right in the middle of it…
After a very strong showing at this year's Frightfest, Train to Busan, the mega hit from South Korea, arrives in the UK - I just wish it had arrived a couple of months earlier. Why? Because in the midst of a Summer of Big Disappointments (Suicide Squad, I'm looking squarely at you, but not many of the others would escape being ringed in with it), here finally is a film which behaves like a Summer Blockbuster should. IT THRILLS.
It does take its time to get going though. After a strong prologue (zombie deer!), we have to suffer watching Seok Woo being a toadying boss at work and a dickish father to his daughter, who's had to get used to disappointment on a regular basis. What does it say to a young girl when her father buys her exactly the same birthday present two years in a row without realising? However the mood starts to build on the way to the station, as they witness a convoy of paramedics and emergency services heading downtown, where they can see a skyscraper on fire. And then there's that great shot from the trailer, as Soo-an catches a brief glimpse of the station guard being attacked on the platform!
I've mentioned in other reviews about how films can switch gears, suddenly upping the pace. This film is a textbook example of that. When the first woman turns, it sets in motion a terrifying sequence as confused and panicking passengers try to flee the carnage. This is where the soundtrack comes into its own, too - providing pulse-pounding rhythm to drive things forward. When the passengers get a respite (these zombies can't open doors, and become docile if their prey isn't in sight), you suddenly realise who tense you were watching it.
As with any good disaster movie, Train to Busan gives us a whole host of characters to care about, cheer for or to boo at. And to wonder, who is going to next fall prey to the horde on board (sorry). The action and setting is kept varied too, including a great sequence where the train stops at a supposedly safe station and everyone disembarks. The action setpieces are perfectly designed to go on juuuust long enough so that you're gasping for breath during the respite.
Other than the zombie threat, our protagonists have to deal with another enemy, in the shape of a CEO of a bus company. He's a rich, entitled dick who uses the other passenger's fear to get his own way, and you just can't wait for him to get his just desserts (admittedly, the longer he lives the more of a cartoon villain he becomes).
This film is laced with pathos, and does a good job of fleshing out certain characters so that you actually care if they live or die. There's a great scene where Young Gook, the shy member of the baseball team onboard, comes into his own and helps save some passengers - but then is confronted by his undead friends and team-mates, and just freezes, unable to wield his baseball bat against them.
I'm sure that there will be people who complain about the special fx (train crash) or the fact that these zombies can run (similar to World War Z in how they pile on top of each other), but so what. There is a special Zing to this film that most will hardly notice. And for anyone who's going to complain about the inconsistent time it takes for people to turn - the film is actually consistent: Bitten on the hand = takes a few minutes to turn, bitten in the jugular = takes a few seconds.
As mentioned at the top of this review, this film thrills, and puts a lot of bigger budget films to shame. It’s a little long, especially during the opening act, but once it gets going its pretty damn awesome.