As an unidentified virus sweeps the country, the Korean government declares martial law. As the country descends into chaos, one city, Busan, is rumoured to have successfully fended off the virus outbreak and remains the only beacon of hope for those not yet infected. But when the virus breaks out on an express train to Busan, passengers on board must fight for their own survival...453 km from Seoul to Busan. The struggle to survive. Get on board to stay alive!
This begins with one of the best pre-credit scenes I’ve seen in a while, featuring a deer knocked down and apparently killed by a flustered van driver. Moments later, the crumpled body in the road judders back into life, struggling to stand. As it does so, we see its eyes – dead and milky. The creature has joined the ranks of the living dead!
Next we meet sulking child Soo-an (Kim Su-an), who is upset because her father Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) works all the time and spends no time with her. I have a problem with this kind of thing, and other similar scenes in other films. Perhaps the child would be less brattish if the parents gave up work and instead of a WII (or two) to play with, she had a stick and a clementine. Hardly! “Dads get all the bad rap and no praise,” says big soft husband Sang-hwa (Dong-seok Ma) at one stage. Seok-woo, however, has his own story to tell …
Anyway, this distant father and child are but two passengers who board the train to Busan, amid news reports of violence and rioting in the streets, and also a wayward passenger exhibiting symptoms of a strange and deadly disease.
And we’re off. Whilst the rapid transformations of many passengers into zombies relies perhaps too heavily on the actors’ facial mannerisms and comes across often as ‘over-enthusiastic’ acting, there’s no denying the effect of an enclosed body of people reverting into killers in some tensely choreographed scenes.
My favourite character might well be Michael Ripper-like Yon-suck (Kim Eui-sung), self-serving CEO who does everything, and betrays everyone, in order to survive amidst the spitting, fast-moving zombie creatures. In one of my favourite scenes, the ringtone of a mobile phone in another carriage is used to successfully deflect the attentions of the ravenous pack. Watching them charging as one toward the source of the sudden, tinny music, is very effective.
Every possible drop of tension is wrung out into the running time. For a while whilst watching ‘Last Train to Busan’, I felt there was something holding it back from greatness. Brilliant direction, acting and urgent pacing – however, I couldn’t get completely immersed in it. And then, somewhere along the way, that changed and I was hooked. The tension is impossible to resist. What a journey!
Riotous thrill-ride and more
- Train to Busan review by Alphaville
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You rated this film: 5
Those rampaging zombies from 28 Days Later are back and this time they’re on a train, so hold on to your seat for the ride. South Korean cinema is showing Hollywood how to do it these days and this is terrific genre film.
Director Sang-ho Yeon is completely in control of his medium, filming fluently with panache and imagination, both aerially and on the ground. Less skilled modern filmmakers resort to amateurish hand-held camera shots to mimic immersion in a scene. Sang-ho Yeon shows how it should be done, with style to spare. If you’re interested in the technical aspects, watch the ‘Making Of’ feature on the DVD.
Although it’s the director’s first live-action movie he has an instinct for when to build tension, when to quieten it down and when to really ramp up the action. What’s more, he makes us care about what happens to his characters, right up to the tense closing seconds. There are moments when you’ll shout at the screen like a kid.
The zombies are expertly choreographed and there are some remarkable scenes. One has them falling out of the sky then getting up to continue their rampage. Another messes with trains in a way we haven’t seen since Frankenheimer’s brilliant The Train. Some shots have an almost apocalyptic grandeur. This is what World War Z should have been.
With great visuals, great situations and a resounding score, Train to Busan is not just for fans of the genre but for anyone who thrills to visceral film-making. It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s beautiful.