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“TRAIN TO BUSAN” (Film Review)

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As an American relegated to only briefly glimpse into the wide world of Korean Cinema, it’s been rewarding to see a cinematic culture redefine subgenres that Hollywood could only dream of doing. Whether it’s the serial killer thriller with I SAW THE DEVIL, the creature feature with THE HOST, or, in this instance, the zombie film with TRAIN TO BUSAN, Korean filmmakers have been able to subvert expectations and create truly emotional, multidimensional stories that effectively mix drama, humor, action, and horror. And in the case for TRAIN TO BUSAN, all those elements naturally compliment one another while presenting spectacle and adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment that captivates the audience from start to finish. In fact, Yeon Sang-ho’s TRAIN TO BUSAN so effectively crafts a heartfelt story and pulse-pounding set pieces that one may almost forget that the film is an unabashedly proud horror title.

For those unfamiliar with TRAIN TO BUSAN, the film follows a workaholic father and his emotionally distant daughter as they board a train to Busan to visit the girl’s estranged mother. However, as the train takes off, one passenger sporting a nasty bite wound and disoriented physicality boards, holding back sickness and convulsions in the vestibule. Soon, the passenger turns into a ravenous member of the undead, and it’s up to the father, daughter, and a small band of eccentrics to reluctantly team together, survive and reach civilization…if there’s still one to be found.

In many ways, TRAIN TO BUSAN almost feels like a response to WORLD WAR Z, one of the first films to prove a traditional zombie story could be told through an epic lens. Yet to TRAIN TO BUSAN’s credit, the film is infinitely more intimate than the globetrotting WORLD WAR Z, confining the action to the train and a few stations while providing the manpower and visuals to make everything feel bigger. Furthermore, TRAIN TO BUSAN isn’t afraid to get vicious and ramp up the intensity as bad escalates to worse, and while the film doesn’t quite glorify gore in the way that Romero’s OF THE DEAD films or THE WALKING DEAD does, that doesn’t mean TRAIN TO BUSAN pulls its punches, either, offering just the right amount of visceral violence when necessary. And TRAIN TO BUSAN also delivers some fantastic visuals in doing so, offering some jaw-dropping FX moments and some awesome practical work that most studios would substitute for CGI in any given project.

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But what really makes TRAIN TO BUSAN a close contender for “film of the year” is the commitment to the story, the world, and the characters, providing an emotionally driven, gripping tale that pulls you into the narrative. Once the shit hits the fan, you care about the characters in TRAIN TO BUSAN, and as certain characters begin to show their true colors, you really find yourself rooting for the protagonists in a way where you feel affected when one gets bitten or sacrifices themselves for the greater good. Likewise, the story feels so true to the arc of the film, whether its the revelation of information, the mounting paranoia, or the more shocking twists, that you don’t have the time to think twice about any possible logic lapses or missteps. It’s simply brilliant storytelling, and when paired with excellent action choreography and some breathtaking horror, it makes for a much-needed zombie revitalization.

Technically speaking, TRAIN TO BUSAN is a marvel to behold, and is an even more impressive feat once you realized this is the live action feature film debut for director Yeon Sang-ho. Everything about TRAIN TO BUSAN is nearly pitch perfect, from Jang Young-gyu’s rousing score, Park Joo-suk’s well-rounded screenplay, Lee Hyung-deok’s striking cinematography, and Jung Do-an & Park Gyeong-su’s phenomenal FX work. And TRAIN TO BUSAN also works thanks to a completely game cast, including Gong Woo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee, Choi Gwi-hwa, and scene-stealer Ma Dong-seok.

All-in-all, TRAIN TO BUSAN is not only a supremely effective and thrilling horror/action hybrid, but a damn fine film in its own right. TRAIN TO BUSAN schools Hollywood by taking the big-budget spectacle associated with tentpole filmmaking and makes engaging art out of it that left many in this writer’s audience crying and applauding upon the end credits. This film is the real deal: not only will Yeon Sang-ho be the next major Korean filmmaker to watch, but any self-respecting horror fan should run, not walk, to the closest theater showcasing TRAIN TO BUSAN.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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