Long before The Walking Dead shambled its way into mainstream pop culture, I was a fan of zombies. They don’t do anything special, and there aren’t many “iconic” zombies, but there was something special about the sub-genre. Sadly I lost interest as it became a quick and easy cash-grab for filmmakers. It was either “Of the Dead” or a weekly soap opera with little to no soul. Never would I have imagined that the zombie genre would find itself once again in South Korea aboard the Train to Busan.
Perhaps the most brilliant decision director Sang-ho Yeon made was to keep the classic format of zombie films gone-by. Sure, we often harp on originality, but sometimes paying homage is the right play. And let’s not kid ourselves here – I’ve never seen zombies on a train. It’s a brilliant setting that will give any claustrophobe sweaty palms.
As with any traditional zombie film, Train to Busan features our cast of reluctant hero, questionable individual, the selfish man, and the kid. Somehow the cast manage to be their stereotype without becoming stagnant. You know exactly what a character is about to do, but you’re on the edge of your seat anyway as they move from one nightmare to the next. At the heart of this chaos is Seok Woo (Yoo Gong), a father who has let business come before his daughter, Soo-an (Kim Soo-ahn). Tired of being ignored, Soo-an wants to see her mother. At a loss of what to do, Seok Woo agrees and so they find themselves at the train station.
The one thing I loved about films like Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and 28 Days Later is that you get to see the best and the worst of humanity. Train to Busan is no different. There is a constant back-and-forth between the ever-present danger of the zombies and the friction of personalities. Don’t expect Rick Grimes though. These feel natural. It’s not hard to imagine these reactions within a high stress environment. The only character that feels “off” at times is Soo-an. She acts as our moral compass throughout the film. Sometimes it becomes a bit jarring, but young Kim Soo-ahn really earns her role in the last minutes. If you don’t feel your gut wrench after watching her pour her soul onto the screen, check your pulse, you might have already turned.
Obviously you can’t have a zombie film without some sort of special effects. Once again Train to Busan delivers with the practical effects. They’re delightfully gooey, yet not squishy. One hit to the head doesn’t cause brain matter to fly everywhere. Zombies aren’t ripping guts out or limbs off. However, when it comes to the CG effect, Train to Busan slips off the rails just a bit. Various fires, the more violent spills, and the “zombie wave” all stick out. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it is a shame considering how amazing the practical effects are. The most egregious offender by far is the “zombie wave”. Better than World War Z, but I would have preferred not having it at all. I am thankful that it was used sparingly.
While Train to Busan isn’t reinventing the zombie genre, I’d say it’s some of the best we’ve seen in several years. Sure, the CG isn’t on par with mega-blockbusters, but when you temper that with solid practical effects and a strong cast, the pros far outweigh the cons. Has the zombie genre finally rose from the grave? I think it might have.
Train to Busan [Review]
The often tired zombie genre is brought back from the dead.