Today I’m reviewing Train to Busan, a South Korean zombie-apocalypse action movie. Now, I’ve been sleeping on this movie for a long time and now that I’ve seen it, I regret every second I spent having not seen it. I have to admit, one of the reasons it took me so long was that I tend to do other things while watching movies, so it being subbed was ‘the issue’ for me (Please note: I would not want this movie either remade or dubbed under any circumstances). Honestly, I would say do yourself a favor and take the two hours to watch this movie. The story is so worth the subtitles. I think it’s pretty fair to say that I gave this movie a 5, Hidden Gem, and wish I’d made my ranking system a little higher because of my intense enjoyment here.
What it’s about
Seok-woo is a hard-working businessman who doesn’t have much time for his family. When his daughter, Soo-an, says she wants to go to Busan to stay with her mother, Seok-woo decides to take her as she is pretty insistent that she will go by herself if she must. A strange strange stowaway gets on board, and soon what should have been a simple train ride becomes a fight for survival against the undead – who appear to be, by the way, unkillable once they rise up again.
This is the part where I would put in any content warnings, but I think by the time you see ‘undead’ or ‘zombie’ in a review you sort of know what kinds of things to expect in terms of blood/body horror. While this is less gruesome than an American counterpart might have been, there’s still liberal amounts of blood flying, and some pretty gnarly body-horror, too.
This movie had me hooked pretty quickly. Seeing ‘quarantine’ zones is always intriguing, even when you know what you’re getting into. It was interesting that we didn’t know when or how the zombie virus started. Normally, in movies like this, our intro will sort of explain that, instead of leaving us as confused as the people we end up following for the movie. It was a really nice change of pace for me, who admittedly has only watched American/English horror movies (something that is about to change, if this was any indication of what I’ve been missing.
I like the nuggets of information that are dropped along the way in regards to how and why the zombie outbreak may have started. There’s nothing concrete, but after watching, I remembered a few of the things that went over my head or seemed unimportant in the beginning were actually sort of important clues to piecing together the potential origin of it. I wonder if this is one of those areas where not being able to read Korean hurt me, since I was only given a headline as a subtitle.
I don’t love the reason that they’re going to Busan to begin with. I just feel like the “bad father” trope is tired and overused. I suppose it wasn’t a super necessary component, but it was irritating enough that I found myself rolling my eyes for the first part of the movie, until they were on the train and the ‘fun’ started happening. Now, this could very well be because the ‘bad parent/selfish person’ thing was sort of a message that I saw throughout, but in general, I’m sick of seeing it.
I really liked the way the zombies worked. Not drawn just by sounds or smells, but operating on sight as well. Maybe it was a cheap tactic to make things plausible, but I thought it worked really well and it was an interesting change from the sort of “Romero”-style zombies that I’m so used to seeing.
One other thing that I found refreshing was that there was still power, there was still internet, and when they were able to, people were able to look into Youtube videos for news and information for what cities were still safe to go to. I see in a lot of movies there’s either no power, no ‘net, no phone service, some combination of those that prevent the spread of information, and I like that this didn’t do that. It didn’t cut them off from the world in a technological way, but in a much more tangible way, by putting them on the train.
To go along with that, we also usually (and by that I mean that in most common zombie movies that I’ve seen/most American zombie movies) we get either dual points of view or some sort of prologue scene that sets up exactly what’s happened, or enough that it takes a lot of the mystery away, this didn’t have that. I started the movie with little information, and largely we keep the same ‘isolated’ feel that those on the train have, with limited information and access to the outside world. It was really cool to be ‘figuring out’ how the zombies work along with the survivors.
I know this is almost all “I loved this, I loved this,” but it was so cool to see, for once, what the force of hundreds of bodies all rallied together for the singular purpose of one thing can do when they don’t give a shit about pain or injury. To see a swarm/mob/horde of zombies just press itself against a glass door/window/etc until it shatters from the sheer force of a thousand bodies pressed against it was both awe-inspiring and also utterly horrifying.
Action is paced really well with story progression and dialog. Nothing ever felt like it was dragging on. I also felt like I wasn’t just watching a zombie movie, but a movie that had an actual message/meaning aside from just being an action movie. This movie consisted of selfish people, and extremely unselfish people. Constantly, people were throwing themselves into harm’s way to try and save each other, and while most of it was about a group’s desire to survive, there was a really beautiful and touching message throughout, which is what I mean when I say the storytelling and action was done well. None of it felt wedged in or unnecessary.
I know I spent a lot of time praising this movie, but there wasn’t much here that I would change. I think my biggest issue was how long it took to get going. Given that the movie is nearly two hours long, it’s not unreasonable for it to take thirty minutes sort of setting things up, but I almost felt it was unnecessary to frame the family the way they did – it was something that could have easily been done through a few minutes of dialog while Soo-an and her father were already on the train.
I spent about 90% of this movie hating Soo-an’s father, but I was really upset when he was bitten and turned. Most of the movie was set up in a sort of redemption arc for him, so it’s understandable, but I’m usually not nearly so affected by it. It was really well done because I honestly did think that he was going to survive and that he and his daughter would be okay.
I loved that the pregnant woman (Sung-kyong, if I’m correct) didn’t die or face any terrible injuries. It’s so easy to use pregnant people as an easy pity-death or have something horrible happen just for the sake of drama (looking at you, zom-baby from Dawn of the Dead) and I can’t say enough how happy I am that she wasn’t used as a cheap way to elicit sympathy or strong feelings.
I was super nervous at the end of this movie. I’d been dealt so many unexpected turns already, I honestly was almost certain that Soo-an and Sung-kyong were going to end up being shot by the military, after everything they’d already been through, after all the sacrifices that people made to keep those two alive. After the emotional roller coaster I’d been on, I really thought they wouldn’t have hit me with one last one during the last three minutes of the movie, but they did. It was really nice to not be left on a cliffhanger, too. From the ending, we can assume that Soo-an and Sung-kyong were taken into the relative safety of Busan and that was how I wanted to end my zombie movies, with a glimmer of hope. So often zombie movies are set up as these hopeless scenarios that I really enjoyed actually finding one with a happy for now, to use a romance-novel term. I wanted the glimmer of hope, I wanted the satisfying reward after the harrowing journey. It wasn’t just a bunch of set up, but I actually got the reward I wanted from all of it.
What did you think of Train to Busan? Do you agree with my thoughts? Completely disagree? Do you have a different take I might have missed while watching? Similarly, do you have a movie you want me to watch and review? Leave a comment and let me know, or Tweet me or something.