By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
For some reason, a lot of this year’s Korean smash hit zombie movie Train to Busan to social allegory in genre clothes Snowpiercer. Sure, they’re both directed by Koreans, and both set on trains, and both have undertones of class warfare (far subtler and more developed in the latter), but Train to Busan ain’t about that jazz. It’s about punching zombies… right in the FACE!
This is the dude I want next to me come the zombpocalypse.
Typical too busy businessman Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) takes his daughter to Busan to see her mother because he’s terrible at birthdays, and fathering, etc. Unfortunately, he picks a train, and unfortunately, the zombie apocalypse chooses this moment to hit South Korea. It turns out that being trapped on a train with zombies isn’t the ideal locale in this situation, but he and a ragtag group of survivors don’t have a lot of choice in the matter…
Director Yeon Sang-ho has a critically acclaimed background in animation (The King of Pigs, The Fake), and brings that energy and anything goes imagination to his first live-action feature. His bone-cracking vision of zombie transformations is arresting and nauseating in the best way, and he nicely deploys practical effects in both creature design and progressivley gory kills. These are definitely fast zombies with some lower-scale World War Z swarms thrown in for good measure, but the commitment to practical effects and deftness in staging of action sequences keep things grounded and riveting.
Not the best day at work.
His movie is paced well and goes by in a flash, as Yeon ratchets up the stakes in inventive and effective ways. He’s aided in great part by his cast, from lead Gong Yoo (also quite good in this year’s The Age of Shadows) providing a (largely) well-drawn, if a mite bit cliche, redemption arc to Ma Dong-seok, who steals the film as both the most innately decent character and a veritable human tank who knows how to handle zombies… punch them right up IN THE FACE.
Maybe Yeon should have also made sure to write the script, as he had with his other two, more austere and subtle animated films. Instead, Park Joo-suk constructs a plot out of horror movie cliches under a fresh new coat of paint. Of course, Yeon is perhaps equally to blame for the film being far too dependent on characters being really stupid to drive tension. Everything about those two old sisters… why?
If genre filmmaking can be compared to an Olympic balance beam routine, all control and poise despite the stomach-churning flips and jumps required, then Train to Busan was well on its way to a Bronze… until it came time to dismount and stick the landing.
Yes, Train to Busan not only smashes its own nuts, but generations of its forefathers’ worth in a scene that may end up being the funniest I’ll see all year, followed by an ending that almost approaches it for schmaltz, if such a thing were possible under the rules of space and time this reality is subject too. Just a hint: this film is chock-full of foreshadowing, and almost none of it is related to the horror, but rather just how goddamn saccharine things are going to end… but that can’t even prepare you. Just… special.
Despite a truly cringeworthy last 10 minutes, Train to Busan is a just damn fun, excellently executed zombie film that earns its place in your Halloween Zombie Movie rotation.
Train to Busan (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Ma Dong-seok punches a zombie RIGHT IN THE FUCKING FACE
Take a Drink: for every train car traversed or train station visited
Take a Drink: for frantic cell phone calls
Take a Drink: whenever corporate assholes be corporate assholes
Do a Shot: for self-sacrifice
Make it a Double: for the cheesiest example of it you’ve ever seen in your live-long life