By Serafina Siow (17A13A), pictures from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB.
I confess to being highly skeptical when first hearing of the film. Despite the 93% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and the 8.0/10 score on IMDB, zombie flicks have a reputation for being gratuitously and mindlessly violent for a reason (World War Z, while thrilling for a bit, turned insipid after a while).
But Train to Busan absolutely blew those initial reservations out of the water. Despite its (increasingly overused) genre, it proved an amazing watch worth the seven dollars I shelled out.
The basic premise of the film is simple. A father, Seok Woo, is bringing his daughter, Sang Hwa, to see his wife who is separated from him and lives in the port city of Busan. They decide to go by train, which turns out to be an unfortunate decision when a zombie attack occurs on board. They try to make it to Busan, the last remaining place in Korea free from zombies, along with the rest of the passengers- some who help and some who (decidedly) hinder the group’s chances of survival.
While the premise of the film may seem totally cliched and typical of its genre, the film offers some refreshing twists to the usual disaster zombie film setting, while wearing its heart on its sleeve in the best way possible. The choice of a train as the setting not only aids in the action, but creates a sense of claustrophobia around the characters and compounds the tension. Emotions run high and this brings the humanity of each of the characters to the forefront. It is the human stories interweaved within the plot which will make you shed a tear or two by the end of the film.
The distant relationship between Seok Woo and his daughter strengthens by leaps and bounds and it is heartwarming to see the two reconnect and care about each other (helped by the liberal application of zombies).
The other noteworthy relationships in the film are between a gangster-like husband and his pregnant wife and two high school students. Although the husband helps to protect his wife physically, she is no shrinking violet and shows true grit throughout the film, more than successfully taking care of herself. It’s an admirable portrayal of a loving relationship where both parties are able to operate independently of one another, unlike some of the more dysfunctional relationships perpetuated in media nowadays.
The blossoming relationship between the two students is a little rushed with its development but completely justified by the circumstances. I mean, if you can’t trust your love interest in a race for survival, who can you trust?
Train to Busan also paints a chillingly realistic picture of the gamut of human attitudes and reactions to a zombie outbreak. With characters ranging from naive to cynical to self-sacrificing, we are reminded that people are all too human. On a positive note, someone who at first seems concerned only about the welfare of him and his own can learn to band together with other passengers to ensure a better chance of survival. On top of that, the claustrophobic setting helps to emphasise the very physical way that the characters are trapped within these circumstances, and are forced to adapt quickly.
Of course, there are people on the opposite end of the spectrum, such as an individual who personally causes the deaths of at least 4 other people (to the best of the author’s memory). Certainly, there are people who are consistently good: the train driver in the film comes to mind, living by his strong sense of duty which drives him to help the other passengers though he could have escaped easily on his own.
While a human story at heart, the action sequences were no slouch either. Nail-biting suspense and jump scares were a seamless feature throughout the film right down to the last seconds of Train to Busan. The fight through the train not only showcased the brawn but also the brains of the characters: innovative with the use of space, making best use of the narrow train cabins and the items they gave at hand. While this author finds the final victory a tad convenient in its timing (right when some characters were about to bite the dust), it ultimately does not detract too much from the film.
Overall, Train to Busan turned out to be a fabulous and marvellous film, with a fantastic plot, unforeseen twists, genuine human connections and well-choreographed action sequences. This movie’s spot-on delivery of the character lines in spite of the usual standards of its genre makes it a standout piece worthy of every bit of praise it’s gotten. This author reckons that Train to Busan reveals the blunt truth about the ugly side of society – the side unveiled when it’s every man for himself – that the audience will be able to dig deep and connect to the truth about human nature, when we usually conceal it.