Train To Busan (2016)
(Original Korean language, English subtitles.)
As some of you may recall, I am lucky enough to be on the Amazon review panel, and I can choose from lists of free items, in exchange for a fair review. These range from books to lawn mowers, domestic electrical goods to pet food, but rarely include films on DVD. Fortunately, this film appeared on my list this month, so I was more than happy to get a free copy.
This is a highly-acclaimed Korean horror film about an outbreak of zombies in that country, caused by a leak from a bio-chemical plant. The film begins with the usual scene setting and introduction to some of the characters. A busy dad has to get his young daughter to see his estranged wife in the town of Busan. A college baseball team has to get there too, as well as an assortment of others who all have their reasons. They are going to catch the train, hence the title.
Not long after setting off from the station, it appears that something bad is happening in the capital, Seoul. Riots, violence, and widespread chaos have gripped the city, and our train passengers seem to be the lucky ones, having escaped the horrors there. But one infected woman managed to get on the train too, and that is when the problems begin…
OK, we have seen it all before. ‘The Night of The Living Dead’, ‘Day of The Dead’, ’28 Days Later’, and the TV show ‘The Walking Dead’. Zombies have been done to death (literally) as a genre, haven’t they? Well, maybe not. This Asian take on the subject provides some familiar zombie tropes, but also breaks some of the rules too. Most importantly, the potential victims are stuck on a speeding train. Their only escape from the ever-increasing zombie horde is to keep moving between carriages. This provides some real tension at times, and the claustrophobic setting adds to the terror, in a very satisfying fashion.
And the passengers do not have any weapons. Other than a few baseball bats, courtesy of the college team, they have to defend themselves with their hands, or whatever they can find. So no guns, no axes or knives, not even a handy shovel. We can forget the usual ‘exploding heads’, and long-distance gunshots, as well as the metal implements used to skewer the marauding zombies, or cleave off their heads. And these Korean zombies do not feast on the innards of their victims. They are content to bite and infect, and then move on to the next one.
When the action comes, it is satisfyingly thick and fast, and feels real too. Anyone who has ever been on a long train journey can well-imagine how they might feel, faced with a bunch of fellow passengers who suddenly go crazy. There is some good use of aerial shots, conjuring up visions of fast-running zombie hordes, with nail-biting anticipation thrown in.
But still you are thinking, “I have seen this all before”, and perhaps stifling a yawn?
The film then throws in something fresh. We actually care about the survivors. Their characters are sufficiently developed to make us root for some, and to dislike others of course. Just when you think, “This is going to happen because that girl is nice”, (or something like that) it doesn’t happen at all. Instead, what happens is what you might least expect. At times, this film can bring a real lump to your throat, and has potential to be a tear-jerker too. A ‘Zombie Tear-Jerker’? Hard to believe, I know.
With a cast of Korean actors who most of us will never recognise, the film takes away one of the major flaws of any western film in the genre. We cannot speculate that this person will survive, because of who they are. No square-jawed Hollywood hero that you know will save the day. No demure young starlet who you are convinced will never be sacrificed to a zombie. For me, this is the film’s greatest strength, and goes a long way into making it one of the best zombie films I have seen.
Here’s the official trailer.