Zombie horror movies. I couldn’t tell you how many of them I’ve seen over the years by now. There just doesn’t seem like much new that these kinds of films can give us, and then, BAM! Out of nowhere, you suddenly find one that makes the subgenre interesting, if not necessarily relevant. It’s weird how these things suddenly burst onto the scene, oversaturate the market, frustrate and annoy everyone, die off, and then suddenly come back. Like a…you know what, I ain’t gonna say it. We should find some other kind of analogy.
Train to Busan is one of these films. Coming from the beautiful cityscapes and countryside of South Korea, a nation known for horror but not for zombies the way somewhere like Italy is, this movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel but instead rides high on the strength of strong performances, a good script, and a sad yet heartwarming climax that reinforces the importance of parental (and primarily paternal) love. Along the way there’s violence, a lot of blood, lessons in self-sacrifice, and zombies that would probably kill in a breakdance competition. Yeah, if you’re curious about the type, these zombies are runners that crawl all over each other and surge en masse like outta World War Z, only with less CG.
Actor Gong Yoo stars as Seok-woo, a fund manager in Seoul who works far too much to the detriment of his family. His wife has left him and now lives in Busan, and he neglects his adorable young daughter Su-an. Her birthday has arrived, and in her desperate frustration with her father, she wants to go spend it with her mom. Since Seok-woo isn’t the world’s worst parent, he refuses to let her ride alone and, realizing his failure as a father, takes her on the trip. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Soon the pair are forced to team up with working class tough guy Sang-hwa, the very pregnant Seong-kyeong, high school baseball player Yong-guk, cheerleader Jin-hee, and an unnamed homeless man suffering from PTSD. The group has to contend with the selfish COO Yon-suk, who desperately wants to get to his mom in Busan and will sacrifice anyone to do it, and as the nation succumbs to chaos, the players band together or fall apart and get killed…most often because Yon-suk is so selfish and doesn’t care. Yeah, once again a zombie film reinforces that rich people are terrible.
You’ll probably get attached to the many likeable characters, which is a shame, because this is a movie that delights in killing off people. I mean, it’s an apocalypse, it does make sense that nearly everyone dies. It’s just sad to see them go when each player adds something great to the film. Often, people get killed in the context of helping one another, so while selfishness is a terrible trait, being the good guy has its downsides too.
If you’re curious why Busan of all places manages to make a defensive stronghold, it actually makes sense. During the Korean War, the initial combined South Korean and American forces were pushed back by the invading North Koreans and only managed to hold on in a perimeter around Busan before eventually surging back when further forces from the United Nations (read: American) arrived. If ever the apocalypse were to occur, yeah, Busan would probably be the best place to go in South Korea. There’s a tongue-in-cheek moment where the government declares things are going ok while you’re seeing footage of people definitely eating it or being eaten, but the South Korean military ain’t a slouch and knows its history. One burning question: did any zombies make it across the DMZ? Since this is a film focused on going south, you never hear what happens up north, but it does leave me wondering.
I loved this movie. The heartfelt moments felt earned, and I admit to getting a little misty-eyed during the emotional climax. I’m also surprised at how much I enjoyed myself here because I am generally tired of zombie films, but that just goes to show how good everyone is. I’d recommend the film, even if you’re tired of these suckers. It might make you remember the good ol’ days when we actually cared that another one of these kinds of movies was coming out.