Although I’m not that big of a fan of Korean movies, they weirdly are unusually rewarding. So it’s kind of hard to resist a Korean zombie flick titled Train to Busan, even if I literally know no one involved in it. Aside from Sohee, but I only found out she’s involved after the movie started. Plus, it’s the sequel of an animated movie… which will only be released in Korea about a month after this one. It’s an interesting bait, right?
When a zombie outbreak went viral, a train ride to Busan became the only chance for survival for its passengers. But when the stakes get high and suspicion rise, could they actually reach the promised safe haven of Busan?
Not unlike the last Korean movie I watched, Train to Busan successfully subvert my expectations. I mean, it’s a zombie thriller. Of course I went in expecting tons of actions and gore with thrilling adrenaline rush. And probably a little drama sprinkled throughout the movie. Instead I was blind-sighted by emotional torrents. Which I honest to god didn’t see coming. I knew to some extent that they would play with my feelings, since an end-of-the-world scenario always involves sacrifice and tears, but I didn’t think it’d be that intense. Most importantly, though, Train to Busan resonated so strongly with me because it’s a perfect reminder of why human beings are trash.
See, it is a dog eats dog world. And when your life is at stake, you’re bound to be a selfish asshole. Even more so when you originally are a self-centered prick. Kim Ui-Seung’s Yong-Suk is the best example of this, being written as an unrepentant jerk who cares for nothing but himself. But he’s not alone. Gong Yoo’s Seok-Woo is almost just as bad, while Ma Dong-Seok’s Sang-Hwa isn’t entirely likeable either. Out of the guys, only Choi Woo-Shik’s Young-Guk fits the goody two shoes definition, yet it doesn’t make him all that appealing. While the female characters are either sensible but overly nice pregnant Seong-Kyeong (played by Jung Yu-Mi, who left quite a mark on me through the drama Discovery of Romance), overly naive Su-An (played by a child actress with the same name, Kim Su-An), or the meek Jin-Hee (played by ex-Wonder Girls’ member Ahn So-Hee).
In the wrong hands, these characters could easily be reduced to two dimensional characters who left no marks. But Park Joo-Suk’s writing did them justice, portraying each of this ragtag bunch as human beings with virtues and shortcomings. Watching them on screen was unsettling, it brought up conflicting feelings, and that’s exactly why this movie played so well with your emotions. You could – reluctantly, perhaps – identify with some of those characters and understands where they are coming from. Even when it comes to the worst of them all, it’s kind of hard to outright condemn him. Because there’s a tiny voice slithering in the back of your head, asking, “Could you actually blame him, though? Would you do things differently, if you were in his place?”
However, it does went over the top sometimes, trading thrills and tensions for drama. The first few times was alright, but it made me impatient as the story progressed. Like, we all know what’s going to happen, just get it over and done with! Not to mention that forced love-line between Jin-Hee and Young-Guk really got me cringing. I’m not oppose to love line, but only if it was decently explored with proper exposition. This one doesn’t. So-Hee’s overboard cutesy acting and Woo-Shik’s lack of expression really didn’t help. Out of all the survivors, it’s safe to say they’re the ones I like the least. Oh and Su-An too, because her naivety grates on my nerves and her acting was… not on par with the rest of the casts. On the other hand, Ma Dong-Seok was my favorite. His portrayal of Sang-Hwa had various shades of emotions, meek at times and brutal at other, but always caring. Even through his blunt words and brash actions, you could see that he actually cares about people around him. This created a strong chemistry between him and Jung Yu-Mi, making them my favorite on-screen couple. Even if Jung Yu-Mi was underused in this movie and barely get enough screen time to shine.
But the true star of this movie was Gong Yoo. His Seok-Woo admittedly got the most screen time, being its main character, but none of them are wasted on him. Oh, we all know, of course, that he’ll have a change of heart and become a better person. But Gong Yoo made watching his character development enjoyable. He was relatable, you could understand his selfishness, yet at the same time you breathe a sigh of relief when he changes. Because then maybe you’ll be able to do the same. Yet somehow, Kim Ui-Seung left the deepest impressions. His Yong-Suk was a total unsympathetic bastard, but his portrayal was so good you can’t help but get mesmerized by him. It’s like a trainwreck. Awful, yes, but you just can’t look away.
Thankfully, Yeon Sang-Ho is a bastard who knows how to both direct a heartfelt drama and gripping thriller. It is, after all, a zombie flick. So it wouldn’t be complete without attacks by hordes of zombies, life or death fights, gores and bloods. Which Sang-Ho serves in abundance. Well, not as much as I would like, but it was more than enough to keep the thrills going. Sang-Ho’s usage of small limited space like the bullet train was exquisite. It wasn’t boring and repetitive, instead it kicks the thrill up a notch. Even when the movie moved to larger space like the train station, he could still surprise us with twists and turns that got you screaming at the edge of your seat. And those zombies! Gory enough, scary enough, wild enough and they run fast enough to catch up with you. Seriously, the way they run and flail at you was near traumatizing. I’d probably freeze in fear if they were running towards me. But hey, at least this movie gave you hope that you’ll be able to fight your way in a zombie apocalypse even if you’re just a typical office worker.
Train to Busan is gripping zombie flick with fun action scenes, splashes of blood, and breathtaking gore. But those are just there to keep you entertained. Because it ultimately is a drama about humanity and family, sets in a zombie outbreak. It is a journey to rediscover your humanity and fix your relationship with other people. It will hit you right in the feels. And while the ending could’ve been twisted to hurt more, Yeon Sang-Ho and Park Joo-Suk took the direction that ensure this will be a movie about hope.
Director: Yeon Sang-Ho. Writer: Park Joo-Suk. Released on: 31 August 2016. Casts: Gong-Yoo, Kim Su-An, Jung Yu-Mi, Ma Dong-Seok, Ahn So-Hee, Choi Woo-Shik, Kim Eu-Sung.