Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A neglectful father, too-focused on work to properly care about his daughter’s needs, gets guilt-tripped into being a proper Dad for one day — the same day that an unknown contagion is unleashed, causing widespread infection and turning everyday folks into a horde of lethal, flesh-eating zombies.
The father is forced to finally become his child’s protector. Groups of strangers band together to fight back the horde. At least one selfish jackhole decides his life is worth more than anybody else’s. And most of the major characters die trying to protect someone they love.
This is not a new scenario. In fact, it’s more well-worn than the mat outside your front door. You’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times. Maybe the characters are different, but the end result is always the same.
And that’s the problem with most mainstream zombie movies today — they’re entirely predictable, which makes them a lot less scary than they used to be.
Well, boys and girls, BVB is here to spread the good word about a new zombie movie that doesn’t suck. In fact, it’s pretty spectacular, both in its ambition and its execution.
Sang-ho Yeon’s debut live-action feature Train to Busan is South Korea’s answer to World War Z, only it’s better and more action-packed.
That’s right, we said South Korea, which means this movie is subtitled. Get over it. Put on your reading glasses. Trust us. You won’t be reading a lot. This is a pure popcorn movie filled with moments so intense and so edge-of-your-seat thrilling that you may have to remind yourself to breathe.
Train to Busan excels by giving new life to Asian genre cinema. It deftly avoids the typical pitfalls that make a lot of import films so difficult for American audiences to absorb.
There isn’t a whole lot of comic relief, which is a relief in and of itself. A lot of Asian films try too hard to be funny at bizarre, awkward moments in the story where a western movie would just blaze ahead with full-throttle action. Like many Asian blockbusters, there is a heavy focus on family dynamics, but thankfully, these tug-at-your-heartstrings moments never become treacly or distracting. And finally, Train to Busan doesn’t get swept up in a slew of subplots. It’s a straight-forward narrative that races along at breakneck speed, much like the central KTX express train where most of the action takes place.
The premise is simple: Overworked business executive Seok Woo is boarding a train with his daughter Soo-an. He’s trying to be a good Dad for once and take his child to visit family. Just as they take their seats, a young woman races past the ticket taker and sneaks on-board. There’s something not right about her. And within minutes, we know why.
Train to Busan doesn’t waste a lot of time, and there’s a reason for that. Director Sang-ho Yeon has a fully-realized vision and he wants to get to the good stuff in a hurry. Boy howdy, does he ever. He offers up a master’s level primer in how to maximize every nook and cranny of his cramped and confined environment. From the empty space between train cars to the claustrophobic bathroom stalls to the freaking overhead luggage bins, there’s not an inch of this train that doesn’t come into play in bloody spades.
Before long, the woman who snuck onto the train is revealed to be infected. And she quickly starts eating her way through the crew. Seok Woo and Soo-an, naturally, get separated. And small factions of terrified passengers begin to form tight-knit units to survive. That introduces brawny Sang Hwa, who is traveling with his pregnant wife. He and Seok Woo form an uneasy alliance that grows organically throughout the film. There’s a bad guy, of course — Yong-Suk, an executive with a rival train service, who selfishly whips up the crowd into a frenzy to keep themselves safe and block off part of the train from frantic, uninfected survivors..
The train conductor uses his radio to learn that Busan is the only possible safe harbor left in South Korea, and he immediately sets course. Getting there won’t be so easy.
Sang-ho Yeon creates inventive scenarios to amplify the anxiety for the passengers on-board as the KTX barrels along. In one masterful revision of typical zombie mythology, he utilizes darkness to provide a possible route for passengers to reach safety. Whenever the train travels through a tunnel, which happens often, the zombies all stop moving and become non-responsive, even if people are sneaking past them.
But Sang-ho Yeon doesn’t stop there. He lifts the action off the train for several incredible, breathtaking set pieces, including one extended sequence inside an abandoned train station filled with a literal tsunami of infected.
Train to Busan succeeds because it doesn’t try to reinvent the zombie wheel. It just streamlines the design.
It’s rare to find an overseas genre import that works this well. In the past few years, there have only been a handful, and most have hailed from South Korea, including I Saw the Devil and Snowpiercer.
So, get over your millennial angst and stop complaining about how all zombie/mass infected horde movies are all the same. It’s not cool to dis something just because it’s no longer the flavor of the month.
If you love gory practical effects, grade-A action and feeling your heart jackhammer in your chest while you sit in the dark and wonder who will survive, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.
Book your ticket to Busan today.
Train to Busan
Directed by: Sang-ho Yeon
Run time: 118 minutes
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Not really.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Gratuitous and glorious.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Duh, zombies.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Released – January 17, 2017
For a complete rundown of all New Releases, plus movie news, interviews and more, visit BVB online at Blood Violence and Babes.com, like us on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes and follow us on Twitter @BVB_reviews.