UK Release Date – 28th October 2016
Train to Busan, a South Korean action-horror from director Yeon Sang-ho, has been something of a breakout hit, breaking box office records across Asia. A smartly judged scope and bullish execution make it everything World War Z tried and failed to be.
For the opening scenes of the film, we are shown deliberated, if trite, nuggets of exposition. Somewhere in the country a quarantine zone is in effect. A road-killed deer is shown to lurch to its feet, eyes white with easily-recognisable zombie madness. We meet mercenary, self-interested businessman Seok-woo (Gong Yu) and his neglected daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an). The seeds are planted for the inevitable zombie disaster narrative, and we sit back and wait for the infection to gradually spread.
“there is nonetheless substance to its considerable style”
Once the father-daughter pair board a train for Busan, however, the film gets an unexpectedly fierce shot of adrenaline. Far from the patient escalation it had been promising, Train to Busan rapidly becomes a full-throttle action blitz, lurching from one zombie-crammed set piece to the next. After establishing the ‘rules’ with clarity and simplicity (the zombies attack by sight, cannot open doors, etc.), it gets pretty creative to find variety within the claustrophobic confines of its speeding train setting. Bar a couple of brief excursions at stations along the way – a sequence at the military-occupied Daejeon is one of the film’s real highlights – Train to Busan commits to the parameters of its title, the hellish train journey providing a solid, propulsive structure for zombie-bashing fun.
There are few scares to be had. The ‘infected’ are bloody, twitchy and initially fearsome, but as the film progresses they become obstacles, puzzles to be manoeuvred around or simply fodder for crunchy fight scenes. Yeon’s film is definitely more action than horror, but he uses this looseness of genre to great effect, particularly when it reaches a surprisingly sentimental end.
The action is tense and tactile, the plot just about unpredictable enough. One over-ambitious train crash sees the CGI begin to creak, but on the whole the look is slick and bright. At points there are even clever visual points made about more sophisticated thematic concerns, not about zombies but about human nature. Not that such a turn is very original. There is nothing drastically original at all, either in idea or execution, but there is nonetheless substance to its considerable style. As a visceral, action-packed diversion this Halloween, Train to Busan more than fits the bill. For something to truly haunt your nightmares, you may have to look elsewhere.
Image: Yeon Sang-ho