Train to Busan (Hangul: 부산행; RR: Busanhaeng) Review
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The South Koreans know how to manipulate your emotions. Train to Busan is a perfect blend of drama, suspense, horror and heart. I will be honest, I am not a zombie person. I find the trope repetitive, overdone, truthfully boring. I do however enjoy when a new twist on the genre is taken, like the tv show iZombie. Train to Busan is like no other zombie movie, because it focuses not on the zombies but on the people. There is a meaning behind and it’s not just mindless gory fodder.
The first characters introduced are a father and daughter, Seak-woo(Gong Yoo) and Su-an (Kim Su-an). Seak-woo is a workaholic stockbroker who barely has time for his daughter and to make up for forgetting her birthday, he promises to take her to Busan to see her mother. We then have the adorable pregnant couple Seong-kyeong(Jung Yu-mi ) and her husband Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok). Yong-guk(Choi Woo-shik), a young baseball player from the baseball team travelling and his close girlfriend Jin-hee(Ahn So-hee ). Last but not least we meet Yon-suk (Kim Eui-sung) a rich COO who will stab and kill to get where and what he wants. At this point none of the important characters have been turned and they won’t be turned for a while, but every character has a story and you can’t help but care for them. The filmmaker is somehow able to make us care for both the main characters and the supporting characters with only a few words exchanged between them.
It also helps that the acting in this movie is PHENOMENAL. I usually dislike child actors for either their cringe worthy overacting or their monotone underacting, I am looking at you Disney Channel. Kim Su-an however outdoes some American adult actors. The pure heartbreak on her face as she sees her father give himself up is far beyond her years and the fact that this kind of acting is what she is known for at the age of 12 still leaves me shocked. She acted her heart out plain and simple.
Gong Yoo proves why he is Korea’s leading man and the love of my life. This movie is coming on the heels of his hit Korean drama, Goblin. His acting here is evidence as to why he is still sought after for big roles even after almost two decades of working. There are times where no words are needed to portray the heartbreak, happiness, or fear he is feeling. The scene below is when the first horde of zombies are coming and we can clearly see the disbelief and terror all in one facial expression.
Then there’s Ma Dong-seok, a Korean-American actor who was so much of a bad ass that Marvel tried to make him into a superhero. His performance is a standout as from ass kicking superhero to loving and devoted husband.
The writing in this movie basically gives the actors everything they need to succeed. There is never a dull moment in this movie and the fact that the zombies aren’t the slow moving Walking Dead zombies adds more excitement to the movie. It also helps that they are truly frightening. The first 15 minutes is the only slow moving part in the entire movie. From the moment the first person is bitten, there is no rest for your heart. It is also cyclical. The characters are all mirrors of each other and bring out either the worst or the best. Gong Yoo’s character arc develops from a workaholic terrible and greedy businessman to a person who is willing to sacrifice his life to become the father his daughter deserves. He changes from Kim Eui-sung’s evil COO to Ma Dong-Seok’s kind hearted father.
Yeon Sang-ho does a great job with this movie despite this being his first live action movie. Yes, you heard that right. Up to this point he has only directed animated movies. He is the writer and director of this film. He is known for his artistic and acclaimed animation. He is a regular at the Cannes this being his second film in the prestigious festival. We can see his animation background influencing the movie. The way the zombies move is normally only seen in animation. The director uses a combination of CGI and stunt people perfectly, so well that you can’t tell the difference between them. In a close up to the zombie you can clearly see that it’s a stunts person with good makeup but special effects add to the terrifying nature of the zombie
Yeon Sang-ho uses every part of the train, turning it into essentially a war zone. There is no part of the train that is safe but at the same time the train seems to be the only part that is safe. Doors, phones and chairs become weapons and cramped bathrooms become temporary safe zones.
Sang-ho changes the color scheme of the movie to reflect both the feelings and the environment the characters are in. On the train it is a bleak, dark and almost clinical environment. It represents the depressing nature of their situation.The few times they get out of the train the color scheme changes to brighter and warmer colors. There is still a dark cloud hanging over them, but a ray of hope is shining through.
Yeon Sang-ho brilliantly weaves music with his character development. No example is clearer than the use of Aloha Oe. In the beginning we see Su-an failing to sing the Korean version of “Aloha Oe” at a school recital. The song Aloha Oe was made popular in the hit Disney movie Lilo and Stitch but in this movie there is a different meaning. Aloha Oe translates to “Farewell to thee” and the in the last scene it is a farewell to her father. The last scene of the movie is her finally singing the song as she and Seong-kyeong slowly walk towards one of the lasts human strongholds in Korea. The scene is made even more heartbreaking as you realize this was the song she wanted to sing to her father at the recital and it is what saves her life. It may be a dramatic and somewhat cliché ending but the tears that it brought couldn’t be stopped.
Train to Busan is a movie that distinguishes itself from its competitors. It is a must watch for any horror, zombie or good movie fan. While there are places where we can clearly see the filmmakers trying to force the feelings of fear and sadness down our throats through music and slow takes, a commonality in most Korean media, the movie is so good that audiences will most likely overlook the obvious manipulation of emotion. Yeon Sang-ho is a perfect representation of what differentiates Korean media their western counterparts. He is able to perfectly blend character development, beautiful writing and music with unadulterated fear of what humanity can become when the world is ending.