You don’t have to be a fan of zombies to enjoy Train to Busan.
The international buzz surrounding this Korean film is well deserved. Train to Busan is an exciting and emotional thriller; a thoughtfully made mainstream action movie that has wide appeal.
Korean heartthrob Gong Yoo stars as Seok-Woo, a Seoul-based fund manager taking his daughter Soo-An (excellently brought to life by young Kim Soo-Ahn) to his estranged wife in Busan for her birthday. But the normally simple two-and-a-half-hour high-speed train ride to the southern port city turns into a fight for survival from what turns out to be the zombie apocalypse.
Riots around South Korea turn out to be people being attacked by and turning into zombies. And one infected person has managed to board the busy train. That’s enough to start turning other passengers into zombies and the fight to survive begins.
We continue to follow our father and daughter, but we also meet several other characters with different backgrounds. A high death count, or rather, zombie count, is expected for a film like this. But director Yeon Sang-ho and writer Park Joo-suk are able to make these characters fully realized instead of just possible zombie fodder.
The cast of talented and experienced actors are definitely able to help bring those fully realized characters to life. Veteran action star Ma Dong-Seok plays the badass, zombie fighting Sang-Hwa with Jung Yu-Mi (I Need Romance 2012) as his pregnant wife Sung-Gyeong.
Singer-turned-actress Ahn Sohee plays “cheerleader” Jin-Hee to college baseball player Young-guk, played by the criminally underrated Choi Woo-Shik. Ye Soo-Jung and Park Myung-Shin are older sisters In-Gil and Jong-Gil. The versatile Choi Gwi-Hwa plays a mysterious homeless man. And Jang Hyuk-Jin is the film’s requisite villain.
For a disaster epic like this, it’s very appealing to still have a character-driven story. It really is the film’s biggest accomplishment. As always, when you are invested in characters, you care what happens to them. That helps with the emotional aspect and makes it all the more affecting.
The characters and actors may be enough to carry the film. But Train to Busan is still a zombie action movie. And it features some truly thrilling action sequences. It helps (the audience) that these zombies are fast runners as opposed to the feet-dragging kind.
The film starts fast and never really lets up. The quieter breaks in between the big action sequences still hold the tension and fear while infusing some genuine emotion and even a few laughs. And those breaks effectively set up the next jump-out-of-your-seat moments which are plentiful.
The cause of the zombie outbreak is touched upon in the film, but it almost felt like the least interesting part. The characters, their actions in response to the crisis and the big action sequences are the highlights and deserved focus of the film.
And this film is just simply great fun and accessible to a wide audience. Thrilling and emotional, Train to Busan is definitely worthwhile.