Film Review: “Train To Busan” (2016)

Can “Train to Busan” transport us into the greatness of Asian horror? Or will we feel bitten and left for dead? Let’s find out in this double-trouble review of Yeon Sang-ho’s jump to live action.

If you read our review of “Creepy”, you will be familiar with our approach: my fiancee and I watch a film, and then we talk about it here. Pretty simple. So, how does “Train to Busan” stack up?

First off, this was a bit different for us. We went to see the film at our local theater, which was definitely the way to go. The film looked and sounded great on the big screen, and the semi-empty room (left like that thanks to the release of “Assassin’s Creed”) was a perfect venue.

Moving onto the story: there is some great character development for a horror film, specially one that looked like it was going to be quite predictable. We do wish, however, that they had explained the origin of the outbreak a bit more. There are vague references here and there, but it didn’t really go in-depth enough to feel like we got a good explanation of why all these people were going through… well, a zombie apocalypse. I know there’s “Seoul Station” for that, but we shouldn’t have to watch that to feel connected to the origins of the story.

Practical zombies are a fresh take on a genre that can feel very much (walking) dead.
Practical zombies are a fresh take on a genre that can feel very much (walking) dead.

There is a definite social commentary here, too, and one that will echo throughout the film and beyond, specially for those who have experienced the crude realities of social inequality.

Going back to the characters for a bit, though, we have to mention that we grew quite attached to some of them, and were truly saddened when they met an end different to what we envisioned for them. It’s good, in its own way, though, as it means that the film made us feel something, and some of it was quite unexpected.

For a genre film, it was a nice surprise to see some real effort put into an original script.

The effects were fantastic: gory, but not overly so. We specially liked the zombie transformations, the effect on the eyes being the highlight for me. An honorable mention goes to the fact that almost all of the effects were practical, leaving very little room for CGI. Good on you, Yeon Sang-ho, for Romero-ing the film.

Haru, on the other hand, loved the physical acting during the transformations themselves: the appearance of bone-breaking contortions made the transition from human to zombie all that more terrifying.

The photography was good, with some angles being right-down fantastic. But the coloring could have used some more saturation and contrast. I know this is quite a western view of cinema coloration, and that Asia has a very different, and more realistic, approach to color. But I can’t help but imagine how much cooler some things, like the baseball uniforms, would have looked with a bit more punch.

Music was minimal, but used in key moments to great effect. Sound effects were excellent, though: not overly done, not too subtle.

Acting was fantastic across the board, with secondary actors carrying the film in key scenes without breaking their stride. I specially loved Soo-an Kim’s performance as the neglected daughter, and Yu-mi Jung (my personal favorite) as the quirky, witty pregnant woman. Haru loved Dong-seok Ma’s likeable butch husband, and Sohee’s Jin-hee, the happy-go-lucky cheerleader.

Sohee is an actress on the rise, with depth in her acting well beyond her years.
Sohee is an actress on the rise, with depth in her acting well beyond her years.

So, what’s not to like?

Honestly, not much. There isn’t a whole lot wrong with the film, aside from personal nit-pickings like coloring and the end met by some of the characters (particularly the main antagonist). This is an Asian horror film that’s sure to be a classic, and we thoroughly recommend you watch it.

Solid acting, a great script, good presentation, fantastic character development (with likeability firing on all cylinders) and hallmark practical effects cannot be held back by small plot holes and coloring preferences. “Train to Busan” is The Zombie Express you didn’t know you wanted, but definitely need.

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