Movie Review: Train To Busan
Train To Busan is a zombie apocalyptic film where an unknown virus has turned nearly everyone in South Korea into the undead. Seok-woo (played by Gong Yoo), a divorced fund manager, and his daughter along with a group of other passengers on a train must fight to survive the ride to Busan.
The zombies in the aforementioned three movies are often slow. They drag their feet. They give the occasional grunt or moan. The horror and the fear come when the zombies are in a large group or when the zombies pursue unfazed despite bullet shots to the head.
However, I would like to highlight how extra terrifying the zombies in Train To Busan are. There is an unrelenting energy that they exude in their pursuits. Warm Bodies and Shaun of the Dead compare zombies to humans and conclude with how we are not so different from the undead. On the other hand, there is something wholly uncanny about the zombie movements in this movie. Even after falling from building into solid asphalt or having their limbs twisted and broken, the zombies pursue their prey determined. They do not have a sense of pain nor do they think about the consequences of endangering themselves. All they care about is sinking their teeth into flesh.
The characters themselves are not anything new. They are all archetypes that are commonly found in literature and film (i.e. the detached father, the ruthless business man, the innocent child). However, what I found was different in Train To Busan, was that the movie took the time to create some kind of narrative for each character individually. In this way, I grew to care about them on various levels.
The actors and actresses did an amazing job in the portrayal of their characters. Gong Yoo demonstrated emotional change and depth to Seok-woo's seemingly uncaring and selfish appearance. Su-an, Seok-woo's daughter, played by Kim Su-an, was also terrific. She effortlessly balanced innocence and maturity in her character by displaying a convincing array of emotions.
The camerawork and the angles along with the director's lighting choices created a terrifying atmosphere. One of my favorite scenes was in the opening where everyone boards the train and the zombies first appear. This scene is shot from the perspective of Su-an which was an interesting artistic choice. From this point of view, the introduction of the zombies is subtle but impactful because, let's face it, who would believe a child if they said they saw a zombie?
The contrast of light and dark raises the tension especially with the knowledge that zombies move by sight: whatever their eyes lie upon, they will try to eat.
Train To Busan balances horror and thriller with a contemplative approach. The film critiques the government and its censoring of media and the truth. It also criticizes the selfishness of society. It condemns the businessman who pulls his weight around to get what he wants regardless of other peoples' safety.
This movie shows good examples of both the best and worst of humanity. While it asks the question, "Who can you save?", it also asks the deeper and more sinister question, "Who do you save?". In other words, who is worth turning back and heading into a mob of zombies for? Who is worth dying for? And who deserves to live?
The film holds up a mirror to human nature and the tendency we, as human beings, have to gravitate towards the impulse to save our own skins first. Selfishness is an innate trait that humans have. It is a survival tactic: the fight or flight mode. We yearn to survive. We claw our way up just so we can take another breath; even if that next one is our last and even if we have to step on the bodies of others to breathe it.
The film does not end bleakly. A child sings a song. The sun rises and there is hope. With hope comes the potential to change. Humans have the ability to choose. Ultimately, it is our choice, our decision to change for the better, which makes us different from the zombies.