Somewhere a Hollywood producer is probably thinking, Why didn’t we thought of this before? And we have subways!
The simple yet clever script uses the confines of a bullet train, which provides an engaging plot as the characters try to make their way from one infested compartment to the next. The camerawork, editing and sound effects combine to create claustrophobic and nerve-racking moments instead of being misused for false jolts. Even when outside, the director is able to stage urgent action scenes that are chaotic but not disorienting.
Thankfully, the plot isn’t solely a technical exercise to make the most out of its visual effects budget. The movie makes a couple of jabs at Korean society, from the way people are more preoccupied with a dirty stowaway passenger than an intruder and the counterproductive effort of the government in stopping people from panicking but turning them into uninformed hapless victims.
The story subverts the genre trope by using an anti-hero – the fund manager Seok Woo just wants to run, save his daughter and reach his estranged wife in Busan. The supporting cast provides an array of characters from different social classes that provides moral conflict and inject some humor into the movie. One old woman decides to turn the tables on other selfish survivors by avenging her selfless friend.
This combination of a simple yet smart premise, wisely built-up tension, well-staged action, great performances, and believable characters deliver a solid blockbuster movie that will surely (and unfortunately) find its way to Hollywood’s remake pile.
Halfway through the movie makes a few stumbles. The emotional elements get melodramatic, to the point that it violates its own rules for a couple of heart-wrenching scenes. It’s hard to believe that a few dedicated whacks to the head will stop any of the zombies. The second half does get a bit silly with its cartoonish undead.
On the other hand, these flaws are compensated by a movie that does more than what it’s supposed to do. Train to Busan delivers unpretentious fun with compelling elements that make it more than just your average zombie flick. It’s the decision to focus on the characters and keep the cataclysmic event in the background result in a blockbuster movie that makes you care.
As Seok Woo realizes that cooperation and altruism is the way to survive, the movie not only makes a social commentary about Korean society but also on mankind as well. If we want to survive as people instead of existing as single-minded meat sacks in a post-apocalyptic world, we need to take care of each other.
Train to Busan
Train to Busan is an entertaining zombie flick with an allegorical screenplay, distinctive scare tactics and great performances from its cast.