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January 17, 2017

Train to Busan

train to busan poster 1.jpg

Yeon Sang-ho - 2016
Well Go USA BD Region A

The train travels between Seoul and Busan. In terms of genre, this Train travels somewhere in the middle, combining violence and horror a bit more explicit than to be found in a Val Lewton production, while using a lighter touch following George Romero's use of zombie films as social commentary. While Train to Busan was a big hit in its native South Korea, it will be interesting if it gets embraced, teetering as it does between the demands and expectations of fans of zombie movies, and that smaller audience that has no fear of subtitles, but view genre films with a certain amount of suspicion.

What is certain is the skills Yeon Sang-ho developed as an animator are on display in his live action directorial debut. If Hollywood wanted to make a comic book movie that looked like its source material, Yeon's your guy. Between the dynamic camera work, and the placing of characters within the frame, there are many moments when Train to Busan looks like a live comic book. Yeon emphasizes the limitations of space within a train, that one can mostly move forwards or towards the back within that enclosed space. Again, harking back to Val Lewton and the adage that what you don't see is more scary than what you do see, Yeon plays with the dread of what is outside of the what can be seen by the viewer. One of the more violent moments is seen as shadows against a clouded window, smeared with a few streaks of blood.

Shamed by inattention to his young daughter, Su-an, stockbroker Seok-woo tries to make amends by escorting her on the hour long train trip to Busan to see her mother, his ex-wife. A panicked, infected woman sneaks on the train, attacks a couple of train attendants, biting into them, resulting in an enclosed train full of ravenous zombies. It's up to the dwindling number of uninfected passengers to fight off the zombies as well as find a safe place within South Korea. If the zombies on the train weren't enough, there is the possibility that the rest of the country is infected. As might be expected, the main characters present a small cross-section of South Korean society. Seok-woo's connection to the zombie apocalypse is referred to indirectly with his comment on his employees as lemmings, while the zombies act as a an unthinking group, responding only to what they can see or hear. Upon learning of his occupation, the working class lug Sang-hwa calls Seok-woo a bloodsucker.

The while these are running zombies, most of the time, they are not very smart, as demonstrated when the windows of a glass door are covered with newspaper, hiding the would-be victims. Often they move like spastic marionettes. The film itself moves something like a train, slowly building up steam before moving ahead with little pause.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 17, 2017 08:27 AM