No spoiler alert for this review. More importantly, don't watch the trailers because they will spoil you. Luckily for me, I was told by word of mouth that there's this good film, Train to Busan, and I have to watch it. Yes, that's literally all I heard before watching the film. The film hit the theaters on July in South Korean and this month for my country.
Making up for his absence from his daughter's life, workaholic Seok Woo finally agreed to accompany his daughter Soo-an in visiting her mother, now his ex-wife, in Busan. Unknown to them, a zombie plague hits South Korea while they're boarding the train. The zombie-virus finally hits them when chaos ensues a few cars from where they're boarding. Seok Woo must do his best for them to survive and reach Busan, the only known safest place they could ever be.
The film reminded me a lot of the action-filled film, Snowpiercer, a movie adaptation of the cult-classic French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. Like Train to Busan, Snowpiercer was also directed and produced by South Koreans.
South Korean films tend to go to two extremes: the highly optimistic (giving off a feeling of hope) and the gravely pessimistic (in romance, the love interest must die). But no matter what the genre of films, like Thai food, a South Korean film goes through all genres as stages. There will be the comedic part (if not partial comic relief), the dramatic tear-jerking part, the heart-hammering horror part (in romance that would be the anticipation for which we know the character will be gravely hurt), the adrenaline-inducing suspense part (we'll include all the martial arts action here), the mind-triggering thriller part (when we have to solve the mystery, say a culprit) and the cheesy romantic part.
Because Train to Busan is a South Korean film, of course it has ticked off all the check list. There are times when I think certain parts of a Korean film to be distasteful when they have become much too trope-y for the Korean film standard (e.g. Miracle in Cell No. 7, I keep having an eyeroll watching it). For this, Train to Busan does not disappoint.
I have to spend writing three paragraphs about South Korean films since this is my first ever review of an SK film. In terms of the Korean Hallyu, many Westerners often complain how most K-pop songs have at least 3 genres on them (hip hop mixed with country and pop) unlike Hollywood songs which are uniform all over. Like K-pop, SK films have lots of elements and a mix of different genres, in which I'd love to think took after the cult-classic The Princess Bride which was adapted from a book of the same name and also was a major risk for producers for years before finally put into film. I love SK films the way they are unless one element is way too much.
As mentioned, Train to Busan is very much a South Korean film in taste but this time, it highly focused on the suspense and action, with little to no respite. Filmgoers are kept on their toes while glued on their seats. There's even little introduction to set the pace. There was enough to tell how Seok Woo was negligent of his own family and how his daughter needed him but otherwise, the film jumps straight into action. All possibility of asking the questions what brought about the plague will be answered through Seok Woo's smartphone before you could even begin to think of questions.
Train to Busan can go on par with the Hollywood bona-fide world blockbuster hit, World War Z in terms of zombie action. Although unlike World War Z which has much to tell with the plot (of Brad Pitt saving the entire world), Train to Busan was straightforward: all we are concerned about is that the characters must make it through to Busan (as straight-forward as San Andreas with The Rock in it).
There's one element that's unique to this film in terms of zombies because we have to exclude I am Legend (vampire-virus not of zombies): animal danger. Not even with the walkers in The Walking Dead, the shamblers in Night of the Living Dead or the runners of Dawn of the Dead did we see animals turn into zombies. I'm not spoiling because that's part of the intro although you'll be disappointed if you want to see more of it.
Certainly, Seok Woo and Soo-an aren't the only characters you'll see and root for. There's at least 5 others: a brusque and brutish man with his very pregnant wife, a baseball jock and his superfan-almost-girlfriend and a foul-looking man. We see them alongside other friends all play into action so everyone trapped in the train will be rescued, only to be met with heartaches in the end.
I don't have to talk about the action sequences since everything is reminiscent of World War Z (fast zombies that could climb on top of each other) and all in a good way that the film could pass as a prequel.
Like most SK films dealing with all-out chaos (like war, vacation-gone-wrong, etc.), one of the film's great element is how it humanizes the characters in it. Not only does the camera pan around the setting but also focuses on different faces at the beginning that when shit finally hit the fan, the shock of losing these faces also hit you. I don't want to talk specifically about how this film tackles on humanity because I see them a lot in other SK films and for some reason, it feels tacky to me regurgitating on it. Basically, things are going bad for everybody and what one must do is to survive at all cost.
The thing I love most of this film is that it makes you not to expect anything, not to think of any plot or guess of who will make it through. You just suspend yourself in watching and experience the action and just let everything go through you until the credits start to roll.