“Look out for only yourself.”
There’s no better movie to pinpoint the differences between Hollywood and Korean cinema than Train to Busan. Where American zombie films would play safe, this Korean thriller twists and turns, keeping viewers constantly on their toes. Anything can happen, anyone can die—no one is safe from viewer favoritism or main character syndrome. And that is where Hollywood flusters and Korean cinema prevails. Hollywood films have trained its consumers to be entertained by expecting the expected, and turning off when favorite characters or protagonists fall out or die. It’s such a peculiar movie-viewing culture, especially when you consider television currently thrives on that very practice of killing off important characters. But let’s put a pin in that for now, and dive into what makes Train to Busan the best zombie flick ever made.
Watching Train to Busan is like riding a train with the rails rolling up and down like a roller coaster. Okay, fine I’ll say it… It’s an emotional roller coaster—there really is no better way to describe it. One moment, you’ll worry if the protagonist, played by heartthrob Gong Yoo, will be able to connect with his daughter (Kim Su-an), and the next moment your chest will drop as zombies thin the herd of terrified passengers. You’ll literally switch from light chuckles to involuntary tears flowing down your face. The film excels at making you care (I mean really care) about a handful of characters, and forces you to watch as sacrifices are made. In that sense, it’s similar to Bong Joon-ho’s train flick, Snowpiercer, where characters drop out one-by-one as the group progresses through the cars of the train. But Train to Busan has better execution and a much clearer mission when it comes to character development and story progression.
Along with Gong Yoo, the film has perfectly cast Ma Dong-seok and Jung Yu-mi as the loving couple who actually steal a large part of the spotlight. There’s also Choi Woo-shik and Ahn So-hee, who appeal to the younger generation with their characters’ naive romance. Shim Eun-kyung, the star of Sunny and Miss Granny, also makes a cameo as the first infected-turned zombie passenger, which is a noteworthy and hilarious “Easter egg” considering her possessed scene in Sunny.
The film plays out much like a video game, with every character—even minor ones such as an old grandmother—making their own definite choices. Every choice that is made, whether selfish or selfless, raises the stakes and builds on the investment of the outcome. The survivors aren’t simply a flock of sheep running aimlessly to avoid dogs; they’re desperately calculative and emotionally impulsive. And it’s fascinating to see the resulting actions that reflect the dark and foolish side of human nature. The film isn’t just a well made zombie movie with family drama, but a smart social commentary enhanced with emotion and blood. Director Yeon Sang-ho seems to make comments on the status of society, particularly Korean society, when faced with sudden catastrophes. Characters are portrayed as hesitant, naive, narrow-minded, and of course self-centered beings; which adds to the exhilaration and horror of the simple idea of zombies on a train.
Evil Twin rating: 5
Good Twin rating: 4.5
Overall Rating: 5/5