Seoulyeok (2016)

Directed by Sang-ho Yeon [Other horror films: Busanhaeng (2016), Busanhaeng 2: Bando (2020)]

Commonly known under the title Seoul Station, this animated prequel to Train to Busan was an interesting experience. It’s my first experience with an animated horror movie, and while I appreciated some aspects of it, overall, I just found this one pretty meh.

I guess it’s worth talking about the animation, which was okay. At times, it seemed somewhat sparse (showing a lot of empty streets with zero zombies shambling about seemed off), but that’s fine. The character designs weren’t great (the faces were what most bothered me), but animation’s not my forte, so I wouldn’t say it really impacted my feelings one way or another.

This movie is oddly somewhat poorly sourced on IMDb, so I don’t really have names to going with the voice actors, but some of these characters were very prone to over-exaggeration, such as the homeless man (who apparently was never named), especially during his “I have no home” wail, which, while somewhat dark, did rather crack me up. I understand that over-acting might be common in animation, but it didn’t make it feel any more realistic to me, which was problematic.

Certainly, I appreciate the attempt to pull in some societal issues to the forefront, such as the division between the homeless and the police (when one officer just assumed all the zombies were just angry homeless people, there’s a problem with the system they live in) and the atrocious reaction of both the city police and the military (a bunch of uninfected people easily could have been saved, but instead they’re just hosed back into their area by police, because fuck the people, amiright?), but I don’t think either of these points are really examined as well as they could have been. Even the tragic lives of sex workers is hinted at, but despite potential, this isn’t expanded on as much as it could have been either.

It could be said that the dismal nature of the story was a bit much (there are few characters who actually survive through the film), but for a zombie movie, I can’t imagine that this is really a surprise. Shim Eun-kyung’s character (Hye-sun) was okay, but I was really hoping for a stronger female lead than what she brought with her. Her boyfriend, Ki-woong (voiced by Joon Lee), was pretty pathetic throughout, and Hye-sun’s father, Suk-gyu (voiced by Seung-ryong Ryu), who brings an actually surprising twist toward the end, was decently efficient. Of course, we see him differently by the end, but at least he was good at killing zombies.

Still, Seoul Station is a bleak movie, and while the same could be said for Train to Busan, I think that this is a lot darker, and there’s not near as many fun sequences here (not that many scenes in Train to Busan set out to be fun, but at least the budget they had made them feel more epic). I don’t hate the story they went with, though I do have problems with some aspects (such as the inconsistent time it takes for people to turn into zombies once being bitten).

For an animated zombie film, while I have nothing to compare this too, it’s not an especially poor film. It’s just not especially memorable or worthwhile either, which isn’t much a positive aspect. If you’re into zombie movies, this might be worth taking the time to watch, but I personally think seeing it once was enough, and it just couldn’t match the enjoyment I got from it’s live-action counterpart at all.

6/10

Busanhaeng (2016)

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.

8/10