It’s clear that we are still living during a zombie renaissance; just flip the channels a few times and you’ll most likely stumble across three or more television shows about zombies, and because unlike your average superhero flick you don’t need a massive special effects budget and thus more varied artists are allowed a crack at them. Then there is the fact that some of the best horror movies of the last decade or so have come from foreign shores; Australia had one of the most original zombie movies in the form of Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead as well as the creepy psychological horror film Goodnight Mommy, and South Korea delivered a bizarre twist on the vampire genre with Thirst, so it should be a surprise to no one that one of the best zombies out there wouldn’t be from Hollywood.
What is surprising is how well Train to Busan works when it’s basically just a straight survival story littered with overused tropes and caricatures, and if there is one character trope I’d like to see retired it would be the dad who “Works to much and thus neglects his family” as if working hard to put food on the table is some heinous crime. This movie not only has the main character being a workaholic dad but the company he works for is at least partially responsible for the zombie outbreak, and he’s also a bit of a selfish asshole with terrible people skills. Yet somehow writer/director Yeon Sang-ho manages to build and explore facets of society through this jerk, all while dealing with a flesh eating mob of zombies, which puts him on the path of the hero's journey.
And he’s a hedge fund manager just to make us hate him more.The movie starts simple enough with a bitching truck driver being let through a road block set up because of some kind of chemical spill, and while “distracted driving” the guy hits a deer, but what he doesn’t notice, as he drives away like the callous bastard he is, was the deer getting back up all zombified. We then spend the next little while getting to know our cast of victims…I mean fellow passengers; first there is Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo), the workaholic dad who had missed his daughter Soo-an’s (Kim Su-an) school recital (he also bought her a Wii for her birthday completely forgetting he'd already bought one for her last year) which results in this train trip to visit his ex-wife/her mother to make up for him being a forgetful dick, then we have two elderly sisters In-gil (Ye Soo-jung) and Jon-gil (Park Myung-sin) who argue that one can be too nice at times, next we have a blue collar worker named Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and his pregnant wife Sung Gyeong (Yu-mi Jeong) who haven't decided on a name for their unborn child, there's a high school baseball team and a cheerleader to add some youth to the mix, and last but not least we have CEO Yon-suk (Eui-sung Kim), whose apparent job in this movie is to be a bigger dick than the hero is. This is your standard disaster movie opening, we've seen it in every Irwin Allen flick, but at least the director here manages to handled it economically. The movie then kicks into high gear when an injured, and clearly infected, young woman boards the train just as it leaves the station.
“I wouldn’t ask to see her ticket if I was you.”The zombies of Train to Busan are not the shambling monsters of the Romero movies; they are more akin to Danny Boyle’s rage fueled creatures of 28 Days Later with a liberal dose of World War Z. In fact the basic premise of this movie makes me think that Yeon Sang-ho may have seen that terrific zombie scene aboard the airliner in World War Z and then decided that particular sequence could actually make for a good two hour movie. Strangely enough, he was right.
We are riveted as our cast of characters must fight car by car to find safety in world that is clearly far from safe; outnumbered in a matter of minutes by the newly undead, who pop up within seconds of dying to leap and gnash at their prey, and unlike most zombie films there is nary a gun in sight. Instead our heroes must fight through the hordes of undead with either baseball bats or their bare hands. Which doesn’t seem like the best idea when even one bite is death sentence.