Directed by Sang-ho Yeon [Other horror films: Seoulyeok (2016), Bando (2020)]
It took me long enough to finally watch this South Korean modern-day classic, but I sometimes move through the genre I love in odd ways. Train to Busan was, as many have said, a very solid movie, and though I wasn’t really amazed or blown away at any point, it’s a strong zombie movie and definitely one worth watching.
One reason this works out a bit better than many modern-day zombie movies is the setting. The movie primarily takes place on, you guessed it, a train. It’s a enclosed, small space (though not as small as you might think – South Korea put far more money into public transportation than the USA ever has, apparently), and because of that, tensions are a bit higher. You can’t run from building to building here – you’re stuck in a car, and if zombies are on either side of your car, you’re pretty much not moving, unless you know how to navigate through hordes of zombies without alerting them.
Which actually happens later on in the film, when three characters need to go through three or so carriages to rescue family and reach the other survivors. It’s a pretty fun sequence, and it’s not even all-out action either, which I expected, but a mix of intelligent ways to get around the zombies using things they’ve learned about their perception. There’s a general sense that, at any point, the whole rescue mission could go horribly wrong, though, and it’s, as the kids say, aces.
I don’t think the performances here are the most memorable thing in the film, but most of them are pretty solid. It’s true that Gong Yoo makes for a somewhat unlikable focal point at the beginning, but he cleans up nicely. Ma Dong-seok is, of course, a lot of fun, and easily one of my favorite characters here. Seok-yong Jeong (captain of the train) looked really familiar, but I don’t know him. Still, a very strong character. Sohee was pretty cute throughout, which was another (small) plus, and Eui-sung Kim made for quite a despicable antagonist (perhaps worse than the zombies).
And as far as the zombies were concerned, I thought they were interesting. They only reacted violently when they actually saw people, otherwise, they just stood there, occasionally jerking and mostly harmless. The scene in which Gong Yoo and company (Ma Dong-seok and Woo-sik Choi) was a good illustration of this unique aspect of the zombies. You can distract them with noises when dark, and so, if intelligent, you can avoid them, which led to some tense scenes (usually when the train was passing through a tunnel, rendering the zombies less dangerous).
Remarkably, this movie never really feels like it’s dragging, even at almost two-hours long (which, for a zombie movie, is pretty ambitious). The ending isn’t really my favorite, but that’s due more to the fact I didn’t care that much for the remaining characters than anything else. Otherwise, though, from the brief stop at Daejeon to the climatic finale at Busan, it’s a fun, tense, and somewhat aggravating film throughout.
Train to Busan is a film that’s well-liked for good reason. It’s a high-quality film with fantastic cinematography and solid performances, and while it’s not really that gory a film, there’s enough to keep zombie fans happy. As I said, I wasn’t knocked off my feet at any time during this, but it was a very solid watch, and is certainly worthy of being thrown into a horror fan’s rotation.