Sigh…. I know. Our “Zombies On The Rampage!!” Film Festival got a wee bit… errr… ummmm… “derailed”… if you will, first by my recent illness, then by work, and then just when I thought I had a grip on things plain ol’ laziness and winter doldrums snuck up and whacked me on the back of the head and took me prisoner. But… I’m struggling to get “back on track” and so here we go with our look at 2016’s South Korean Blockbuster Horror/ Disaster mashup. (Pardon all the “train” puns… This wee lady’s feeling a bit goofy today… 😉 )
Our synopsis? OK… here goes: “When a countrywide zombie-viral outbreak flares up in South Korea, a group of terrified passengers try to fight off the infected hordes while desperately trying to make their way to safety, all trapped aboard a suspicion-filled, blood-drenched bullet train ride to Busan, a southern resort city that has managed to hold off the ravenous crazed zombie hordes – or so everyone hopes.”
Hehehe… we get a real “two-for-one” with this film. An old-school disaster epic on a runaway train and a grisly Zombie Apocalypse story at the same time. How can it go wrong? One way to find out and that’s to come along for the ride… 🙂
It’s always nice to get yet another peek at the Zombie Apocalypse… this time from the Korean perspective. One of the things I enjoy most about these films is the way such an intrinsically “American” folklore monster is perceived by a foreign audience and then incorporated into their very own cultural notions. The Zombie? A folklore monster? Yep… growing up in the US I have to admit that our current understanding of the Zombie is just that. A folklore idea that every single person in my culture knows and understands. Sure… the zombie might originally have been a Caribbean notion… a quaint bit of Voodoo legend to scare the kiddies… but the modern image of the contagious walking dead, hungry for brains and the flesh of the living… that’s all ours now. We pretty much worked out “the rules” by which they work… just ask any American kid and he’ll know all about them. Want them to go away? Shoot them in the head. If they bite you? Yep… you’re a gonner. No “ifs ands or buts”… So simple and yet so compelling…. And it’s so neat to see the rest of the world adding them to thier own collective nightmares…
And… for a bit of extra fun, “Train To Busan” wants to be an homage to old-school disaster movies too! Yep… much in the style of “Earthquake” or “The Towering Inferno”, we get a plethora of individual character stories to follow along side that of our main hero and his daughter throughout this one. Our main hero? Why that would be Seok-woo (played by Gong Yoo) a workaholic fund manager caught up in the rat race as he tries to balance the pressures of his job along with his responsibilities to his young daughter, Soo-an (played by Kim Su-an). He’s not doing too well at that either… divorced from Soo-an’s mother, his job keeps him from making any real connection to Soo-an. She loves her dad… but she misses her mom and the divorce has left her feeling alone and abandoned by both the people she loves. Her birthday rolls around, and another failure by her father to make time to see her at an important school recital has her at her wits end… wanting nothing more than to take the long trip to Busan to see her mother. Seok-woo can’t really take the time, but somehow he knows it’s not something he can avoid. Not unless he wants to risk losing his little girl’s last shred of love for him.
So, with their relationship on the line, they board the KTX bullet train in Seoul for an express ride to Busan. Just as a freaky nearby outbreak of “hoof-and-mouth” disease somehow causes the Zombie Apocalypse to rear its grisly head… Yep, gotta say I just loved the zombie roadkill deer that lurches to its feet moments after getting whacked by a truck. (And I was sooooo proud of my sweetie when she turned to me and whispered at that point: “Uh-oh.. if animals can go zombie too then the world is really screwed, right?”…. Hehehe, why yes dear Carolyn, that’s a certain sign that nobody’s gonna survive this one… She gets it! She reeeeaaally gets it! I’m soooo proud!! 😉 )
So now that we’re on the train and the zombies are raging in the station, who else is along for this express trip to Hell? Well… there’s tough working-class guy Sang-hwa (played by Ma Dong-seok) and his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (played by Jung Yu-mi). We get a group of High school baseball players and a cheerleader for that dose of youthful exuberance including star pitcher Yong-guk (played by Choi Woo-shik) and his girlfriend Jin-hee (played by Ahn So-hee). There are a couple of elderly sisters, In-gil (played by Ye Soo-jung) and Jon-gil (played by Park Myung-sin) on a vacation trip to Busan. Naturally, there’s that steryotypical asshole role, filled by Pharmaceutical CEO Yon-suk (played by Kim Eui-sung) … afterall, we gotta have somebody to mess stuff up at crucial moments and get some of these nice folks killed. Throw in a shell shocked homeless guy (played by Choi Gwi-hwa) and we have quite the pile of possible corpses to work with.
But how do our heroes get into trouble? Afterall, they are rocketting through the countryside at breakneck speed. Sounds pretty darn safe, right? Well… it probably would have been if a teenage girl (played by Shim Eun-kyung) , bitten on the leg by zombies at the station hadn’t managed to slip abord just at the last minute.
So much of our film is concerned with that little mistake, which soon has the contagion spreading through the passengers like wildfire. Time to check our “Zombie Rulebook”.
OK. We’re talking those really annoying “fast” zombies. Kinda a cross between the “World War Z” ones and those nutty rabid guys from “28 Days Later”. Thakfully the disease seems to take longer than the the plague from the former film… although the exact incubation period seems to vary from mere moments to as long as 15 to 20 minutes, depending upon how much melodrama the story needs at that point it seems… Are our monsters real zombies or just crazy plague victims? Oh… they’re real zombies alright, as dead (or undead) as they come. How do you stop them? Well, things are a bit vague there… mostly a good headwound seems to do the job, but just plain lots of brutal damage seems to work too. Anything new? Yep… these particular Zombies seem to get confused in the dark, although loud noises send them into a frenzy. OK…. that’s a little wierd, must be a Korean thing. 😉
All in all, I have to say, “Train To Busan” certainly knows it’s audience. Want lots of deep scientific musing on the source of the Apocalypse? Nawwwww… you know you don’t want that. You want to see nifty set piece scenes to show our heroic groups struggling to survive as they get separated, fight back to each other, struggle with the fears of contagion and the natural desire for some people to use even such a situation as this for personal gain. One by one our groups start losing people… some you’ll expect to see get eaten, others you’ll find yourself goin’ “Noooo!! Not them!! They’re suppossed to survive!”
In fact, by our movie’s end, only two characters make their way through this gruesome catastrophe to finally reach Busan and safety. Who is it going to be? Hahahaha!! Neko’s not gonna tell you! You are soooo going to want to watch and see for yourself.
I’m happy to say that “Train To Busan” proves that the Koreans do understand the genre. They get the “Zombie Apocalypse” and know exactly how it’s supposed to work. If you are a zombie fan, you’ll be very pleased with this one. It hits all the right notes and blends it with a healthy dose of the melodrama that Asian cinema does so darn well.
I managed to see this on the actual Korean Region 3 release, which is as excellent as all Korean discs tend to be. Widescreen, letterboxed, uncut and with excellent separate English subtitles. Trust me… the only way to go. There are also multiple version available from Region 1, 2, and of course the ever so frugal Malaysian disc floating around and even streaming options for those of you who Neko knows will want to watch this as much as she did. Get yourself a copy. You won’t be dissapointed.
I give “Train To Busan” a well deserved 4 “Meows” out of 5. It’s scary, it’s action packed, and it tells just the sort of story Zombie fans will love.
Well… that’s that, and before I leave, it’s Trailer time of course. So “All Aboard!!” 🙂