By Ryan Keating-Lambert
A decent edition to the zombie hall of fame. In a world of Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later prequels, sequels, reboots and other regurgitated rubbish, this modest South Korean treasure throws a spanner into the mix… or rather into the train. Last Train to Busan is more an action horror movie with a whole lot of tongue in cheek, but also a few decent scares. Believe it or not, there are even some emotional moments. Never found myself on the verge of a tear in a zombie flick before.
Set in Seoul, typically busy father Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) finally makes an effort to spend time with his daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) on her birthday. BUT, a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea and all hell breaks loose on their train journey to Busan.
We’ve heard it all before. Zombies appear and friends and family members perish in ways that make you squirm. It was shocking in the beginning, but not anymore. TV series ‘The Walking Dead’ has shifted the focus to brutal gang violence and torture; the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Lesser known series ‘iZombie’ has blended the genre with crime drama, and movies like World War Z have resorted to speeding up and toying with the culprits so much that it’s just silly – those blurry waves of CGI zombies in the Israel scene? Too much. Why didn’t they just stick to the book? Now THAT was good.
Even George A. Romero, the godfather of zombies said that the genre was a bit tired and misses the days of pitching a good old fashioned undead project like Dawn of the Dead or similar. It’s all a bit complicated now. Busan however is a refreshing piece. It takes your modern day zombie virus and puts it in your morning commute to work. The train becomes a speeding coffin of destruction and chaos and throws you right in the centre of the carnage. The suspense and tension works well, and when it doesn’t, you can still entertain yourself with the silliness of the situation – there’s a carriage with a teenage baseball team so you can imagine how that pans out.
The zombies themselves are portrayed quite well and do have a certain speediness and sense of urgency compared to Romero’s zombies of the past, but it doesn’t go overboard like parts of World War Z. The cinematography is also pretty solid and promotes a good sense of feeling trapped. One scene in an abandoned train station was especially intense. It keeps you guessing, as do the characters, and that’s a good thing in a genre that can be oh so predictable.
Special kudos to Soo-an Kim who does a splendid job of looking terrified and upset throughout the film. One of the best child performances I’ve seen in quite some time. Despite some unavoidable cheese in her relationship with her father, their relationship, as well as their relationships with other characters in the train, is quite spontaneous and unpredictable. There’s some great character development at work here.
Director Yeon Sang-ho also made an animated prequel to this film called Seoul Station, set one day before.
Feature photo: Roger Ebert