Film Review – Train to Busan (2016)
Foreign films are becoming more mainstream in the minds of moviegoers thanks to easier accessibility with streaming services like Netflix slowly taking over the world. Thanks to a regular reader of MovieBabble, I stumbled upon a film produced in South Korea that has become popular among thiller/horror enthusiasts, Train to Busan! The film has been praised for its take on the zombie subgenre. But did the film have enough bite for this critic?
Train to Busan is directed by Sang-ho Yeon and features Yoo Gong and Yumi Jung alongside a ton of scared looking extras. The film tells the story of a father (Yoo Gong) who has a less than stellar relationship with his wife and daughter. However, it’s his daughter’s (Yumi Jung) birthday and all she wants is to be able to see her mother in Busan. Begrudgingly, the father takes off work to respect his daughter’s wishes by taking a bullet train with her to her desired location. However, once the train begins to move, passengers soon realize that a group of ever-growing, deadly adversaries are on board.
Zombie movies have become somewhat of a shell of what they used to be in recent years. However, there are a select few films that subvert cliches of the genre to make horrifying and engrossing films. Train to Busan seemed to be following that trend with a predominant amount of the film taking place in an enclosed area. This idea speaks to smart writing, which I can most certainly get behind.
However, there’s an obvious stigma surrounding this film since many moviegoers refuse to watch films that include subtitles. In my humble opinion, you can’t really be considered a film fan unless you open yourself up to all types of cinema. A good story is a good story, no matter the language. Rate a film based on its merits, not for your inability to read semi-quickly.
Sorry, I just needed to get that out. I get worked up from time to time. Anyways…
What I Liked
Train to Busan has some pretty fantastic writing from writer-director Sang-ho Yeon. As I alluded to above, Train to Busan has some very inventive ways of keeping the actions tense and compelling. Rather than lazily having characters gun down zombies with machine guns left and right, each set piece is carefully planned out and different from the previous where the characters have to think outside the box with every new challenge.
I found the use of the zombies fascinating. The film kept adding little wrinkles to their traits. However, these little additions never felt absurd nor took away from what the movie had already set up. They also have very nice practical makeup that add to the dread of the film. Each extra used as a zombie gave 100% effort. I tried to look for a zombie that was lollygagging behind, waiting to pick up his paycheck, but thankfully, I never did. This allowed for the film to have a realistic edge.
Additionally, each character moment in the film has a setup and a payoff, allowing for a well-rounded story that it is more than a monster movie. There’s a ton of memorable characters in this film that keep you emotionally invested.
The best of which is played by Ma Dong-Seok. Although he is initially an opposing force to our main character, he has so much swagger and screen presence that you instantly begin to love him once he gets rid of his grimace. He’s the coolest, most heroic, and surprisingly one of the most thoughtful characters in Train to Busan. Not shockingly, he was nominated for best supporting actor at the Asian Film Awards for his work in this film.
What I Liked…Continued
While the film has hundreds of zombies at the center of this film, the real story here is the relationship between the father and daughter. There is an endearing relationship that grows throughout the film between these two characters. The well-written script allows for chaos to cease in order for these moments to happen. The best quality a relationship can have in film is that it feels organic. Train to Busan has this characteristic in spades.
There’s also a neat little camera trick that Train to Busan utilizes to heighten the mania of the hordes of zombies. Every time the zombies break loose, the camera appears to use a lower frame rate which makes movements look a little more choppy and frantic. Whether it was planned or not, it works well when paired with the zombies and increases the hysteria of each set piece.
What I Didn’t Like
Although Train to Busan is a very good movie, it’s not perfect.
Even though I loved the zombies and their construction, I had some questions regarding the human transition into a zombie. At times, people would turn immediately into zombies after getting bit. However, some characters took an extended period of time to become monsters. I struggled to find a concrete rule to this trait like the other features with the zombies. It felt like the movie was making it up as it went along in order for more character moments to take place.
Other than that, good job, Train to Busan! You kept my inner cynic at bay.
As a whole, Train to Busan is a superior foreign film that crosses genre lines to make a fun, tense thrill ride. It gets an A-. There’s a certain edge to Train to Busan that really, really works. It catches your attention and doesn’t let go until the movie’s two hour run time is complete. The next time you’re flipping through Netflix, try this one out instead of watching Captain America: Civil War for the eleventy-billionth time. You won’t be disappointed!
This review came to be from a reader request, so if you have a film you want reviewed, please speak up! You might just get your wish!
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