Film Review: Train to Busan
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How do you solve a problem like the ongoing over-saturation of the zombie movie sub-genre, I hear you ask? Simple, don’t make a zombie movie.
Or, if whatever reason you’ve decided to go ahead and make one anyway, be like former-anime visionary Sang-ho Yeon and set out to make a completely different genre altogether, that just so happens to have zombies in it.
This is how we arrive at the gloriously fun, thrilling and surprisingly emotional doors of the Train to Busan, a loveable Korean disaster flick set aboard a runaway train on a non-stop service from Seoul, where a deadly virus has suddenly taken hold. Surprise surprise, those infected don’t seem to want to stay dead for long, and so when one of the walking wounded happens to climb aboard the titular train just before it sets off, as expected, all hell breaks loose.
There’s nothing overly new about the set-up, or even really the undead themselves: a standard combo of your casual zombie and a 28 Days Later-style rage monster (and yes, they run), but Train to Busan still feels unusually fresh at every step along the way. It helps that Yeon seems comfortable with the pretty immense scale, and that his actors are all three hundred-percent devoted throughout, but really it seems it’s more about a matter of perspective than style.
Where Busan differs from the rest is in its general approach. Yeon isn’t gunning for your bog-standard zombie survival movie; it’s not a film about the end of the world, or the end of all hope; there’s no tormented soliloquies or lamenting on the state of existence, it’s just about a group of people trying to get from one place to another. The undead here aren’t villains or cannon-fodder to be offed in inventive ways (no zombie kill of the week in sight). They’re just obstacles.
In fact, the hefty majority of the beautifully staggered action actually comes from the characters finding creative ways to get around them, trying everything from some nifty cardboard armour to a dangerously tense stealth crawl. On paper it sounds annoyingly sanitised but in practise, Yeon’s bravery pays off terrifically, although he does owe a great debt to an incredible cast.
Directing from his own screenplay, Yeon squeezes plenty of neat, subtle nods and motivations into pretty much every gap possible, ultimately making a pretty huge and varied cast still feel close and personal at every turn. And whilst it might take the first act or so to fully climb aboard with their plight, once you do it’s almost damn near impossible to not just jump straight up out of your seat and full-on cheer them on with every little victory along the way.
There’s simply no avoiding the fact that Train to Busan is an absolutely, barnstorming crowdpleaser of a movie, that’ll easily satisfy everyone from zombie fans, to disaster junkies and even the non horror-converts. It might be more Towering Inferno than Dawn of the Dead at heart, but Yeon hits all the right buttons over a bizarre (but truly thrilling) mishmash of genres, that’s resulted in not just one of the best movies of the year, but probably one of the finest zombie reinventions to date too.
Ignore the horror tags and subtitled dialogue, this is an outright essential watch for even the most casual cinema-goer.
Train to Busan is out in the UK this Friday.
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