Never did I think that come the end of a zombie film I’d have to dry my eyes, but Korean zombie flick Train to Busan has managed to achieve just that.
Following his divorce, hedge fund manager Seok-Woo begins to realise the connection with his daughter Soo-An is weakening after she persistently asks to go see her mother. After missing her recital, and unwittingly buying her a duplicate present he decides to treat her with a trip to see her mother in Busan. As they board the KTX rail, what are initially reported as riots turn out to be part of a prolific and violent zombie outbreak. As the train journey begins, an infected person clambers aboard and begins to wreak havoc. With nowhere to stop, and in a confined space, Seok-Woo and Soo-An must fight their way to safety with a group of survivors and reach Busan before the city is quarantined.
Sang ho-Yeon, who has honed his craft directing animated features such as The Fake and The King of Pigs, delivers a rip roaring emotional roller coaster to a genre that has done nothing but morbidly shuffle along for years. As a result Train to Busan goes down as one of the best zombie films to grace the silver screen. What is remarkable about this feat is not that Train to Busan is a revolutionary film for the genre. It’s that it evokes more tension, emotion and drama than anything Hollywood has churned out for the genre, and it does so through streamlined story telling and relationship building.
In the calm before the storm there is a focus on Seok-Woo and his daughter Soo-An, but once we board the train snippets of the auxiliary characters lives are sprinkled in. It’s fundamental character building, and nothing out of the ordinary. Then after the initial frenetic outbreak on and around the train, by what are some of the most utterly relentless cinematic zombies, the characters find themselves in peril and the film kicks into top gear. And when it does, it’s high octane and gripping till the very end. A more cynical person than I might see some of the dramatic events of the film as emotional bait, and the film does break some it’s own rules to amplify impassioned scenes, but it is so darn effective.
The unrelenting nature of the zombies results in some terrific heart racing action sequences as the undead hurtle through train cars and leap through the air to attack the living. Despite their ferocity director Sang ho-Yeon manages to do what every other zombie film or TV show fails to, he refrains from gorging on the violence of what unfurls around the story. There are no close ups of severed limbs, broken skulls, or detached eyeballs, there is simply a priority on what matters, the characters.
Do yourself a favour and make Train to Busan one of the films you watch this year. Not only is it one of the best zombie films in the last two decades, it’s one of the most entertaining and emotional films this year that hits you right in the feels.