Seok Woo (Gong), a busy fund manager and single parent, has let his work take over his life to the extent that his daughter Soo-an (Kim) can no longer stand living with him and demands to be taken to spend her birthday with her mother in Busan. And so father and daughter board the eponymous train – on the day the zombie infection breaks out.
Zombie movies may be ten-a-penny these days, and so it’s difficult to find a new approach to the genre, but this South Korean effort has a unique selling point in its claustrophobic setting; as many films before it have discovered, from Bond outing From Russia With Love to Snowpiercer, the confined and inescapable train is an excellent setting for brutal action. It’s even better with zombies on board!
Through news reports and phone conversations, the passengers get an idea what’s going on across the country, but they’re stuck on the train, with their only chance being if it reaches a safe city. And as people become infected and bloody violence breaks out, the survivors must band together and barricade themselves in safe carriages. It’s very lucky that there’s a baseball team on board, and they’ve brought their bats along.
Many obstacles along the way ensure that the film never sags during its two-hour running time – what happens when a few passengers are trapped in the toilet of a zombie-filled carriage? Or when they reach a supposedly safe station, only to find the army defences outside have failed? Or when there’s something blocking the track in front of the train? All of these provide for intense set pieces, shot with breathtaking pace – you’ll spend much of Train to Busan on the edge of your seat.
Seok and Soo-an team up with a gang of other passengers, who we follow throughout the film. Seok’s conflict with a man he initially fails to look out for provides for some character development, as he learns that he must help others in order to help himself. But this theme of selfishness vs. selflessness is laid on heavy, particularly when it comes to other supporting characters, such as a one-dimensionally swinish COO and a pair of sisters who have opposing political views. This lack of subtlety turns what could be insightful social commentary into a more grating affair.
And yet this is never a problem for long, as there’s always another pants-shakingly relentless action scene around the corner. Yes, it’s another zombie movie, and no, it’s no Romero. But Train to Busan has a few tricks up its sleeve and proves there’s life in the zombie genre yet.
TRAIN TO BUSAN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: SANG-HO YEON / STARRING: YOO GONG, SOO-AN KIM, YU-MI JUNG / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 27TH