Train to Busan / Busanhaeng (dir. Sang-ho Yeon, 2016) – Passengers on the train from Seoul to Busan struggle to survive during a zombie virus outbreak in South Korea.
South Korea’s first zombie blockbuster Train to Busan reinvigorates the tired Z-genre, restoring character-driven drama to flesh-eating thrills.
A virus outbreak turns a train to Busan into the freight of the dead. Aboard with the infected, Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) will do anything to protect his estranged daughter Soo-an (Kim Soo-ahn).
Carnage on the streets casts doubt upon the existence of a safe haven. Still, glass doors are not built to last. Frantic survivors hang onto their only hope and persists to find a way out.
Amid the chaos, it is not just the zombies they must fear. Survival instinct can bring out the very worst in the living. Where hope is frail, every man for himself comes into dangerous play – with fatal consequences.
Citizenry is not the only subject of critique in the film. The South Korean government comes under fire for attempting to urge calm by covering up the incident. When the authorities lose trust and no rescue is in sight, the tense situation becomes all the more desperate.
It is therefore thankful that we get to see the best of humanity, too. Civilians emerge as unexpected heroes. Train to Busan returns to George A. Romero tradition, where horror is the least of it. Instead, every action of the living means more than that of the dead.
In sacrifices of self or others when cornered into despair, the disparate choices we make are telling. Will we have the courage to trade our lives for a stranger’s, or will we put ourselves first? Do we risk infection to save someone, or leave him to die for our own sake? Provocative moments like these draw powerful parallels to real-world refugee crises, which feel especially relevant today.
South Korea’s first zombie thriller succeeds in such excellent character-driven drama, and none of that takes away from the action scenes. In a gun-free society, hand-to-hand combat sees a thoroughly intense fight through impossible hoards. An absurd amount of luck does not detract from suspense, as we wholeheartedly root for them to prevail.
It is easy to do so. In friendship, family and love, each survivor finds credible motivation to push aside their weaknesses and march on. These may not have been the most original stories in the genre. But owing to moving cast performances, Train to Busan proves deeply evocative and meaningful, such that casualties never feel like statistics but striking, harrowing losses.