- Actors: Gong Yoo, Jeong Yu-mi, Choi Woo-sik
- Director: Yeon Sang-Ho
- Film Format: Dolby, NTSC, THX, Widescreen
- Number of discs: 1
- Studio: Well Go USA
- Release Date: January 17, 2017
- Run Time: 118 minutes
There is nothing particularly groundbreaking or innovative about Train to Busan, though this is primarily due to over-saturation of zombie narratives in film and television. And yet, despite the content being fairly derivative, Train to Busan manages to stand above many zombie films that have come before merely by keeping the narrative focused with a simple premise and a consistent thematic through line. The use of zombies as monsters may seem blasé, but the message developed through the behavior of the humans in the face of tragedy has sharp relevance in modern society.
The plot simply involves a father protecting his daughter from the dangers of a zombie attack while on a train to visit her mother in Busan. This simple story is layered through the nuances of the narrative, coming through in this protagonist’s transformation to a caring human being while much of society is transforming into monsters. And not all of these monsters are zombies; some of the most horrific actions in the film are carried out by self-serving humans in the face of peril.
Interestingly enough, despite this being a modern horror film rather than a dystopian science-fiction actioner, there are many similarities between Train to Busan and Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer. Both involve the protagonists fighting against presumptions about class and the self-serving behavior of those at the top, regardless of how it affects others less fortunate. And even simpler, both films have the protagonists battling to make their way towards the presumed safety of the front of a train, which on a perilous journey towards an uncertain future.
Our protagonist in Train to Busan is Seok Woo (Yoo Gong), a workaholic fund manager whose job is in danger of taking precedence over the raising of his daughter, Soo-an (Soo-an Kim). After accidentally giving her the same present for her birthday as he had given her the previous year, Seok agrees to take Soo-an to visit her mother in Busan. When a sudden national disaster occurs, spreading a zombie virus throughout much of the country, the passengers of the train all have different reactions. Seok’s immediate response is to save his daughter, regardless of who he must step over along the way, but an encounter with a few selfless passengers and his own daughter’s instinct towards compassion changes his perspective.
There is significant thematic application in the film’s narrative, tying the zombie outbreak to the recent MERS virus scare in South Korea, while also making a statement about class division and government distrust which has relevance in nearly any modern society. The zombies cannot necessarily be blamed for their actions, as they are victims of the disease which has infected them, whereas the corporation responsible for the outbreak and a coldhearted reaction from the government is far more ruthless. This, however, is nothing compared to the selfish actions of a few vile individuals determined to survive at any cost. By the end of the film, Seok must learn to counter this behavior; not only to protect Soo-an, but so that society itself can survive.
Train to Busan is filmmaker Sang-ho Yeon’s first live-action feature, best known for his animated films. Among these is Seoul Station, an animated companion piece to this film, which focuses on the zombie outbreak in a downtown train station. Although it is likely too much to ask for Seoul Station to be included in the extras, the two behind-the-scenes featurettes are a lackluster replacement. “Behind the Scenes” is just under 15-minutes of footage from the shoot, including some great set pieces and a few dramatic accidents on set, whereas “That’s a Wrap” is just a few more minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from the end of the shoot. This footage likely could have been combined to make one extra, but likely was split up to pad the extras, which otherwise only includes the theatrical trailer. There is also an optional English-language dubbing, though I will always choose original language with subtitles when given the option.
Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 5/10