Train to Busan (Busanhaeng) Review

Posted: August 1, 2016 in 2016 Fantasy FilmFest, Foreign, Horror, Reviews
Tags: , ,

Train to BusanRap versus rock. The designated hitter or pitchers batting. And, of course, the most contentious of arguments pitting fans of a classic approach against a band of upstarts: slow-moving zombies or their quick-footed brethren.

These are the unresolvable debates of our time. And while the Korean horror action flick Train to Busan (aka Busanhaeng) will not end the vitriol, advocates for a more fleet flock of undead have received a major boost from writer/director Yeon Sang-ho. In his first live-action feature film, Yeon has crafted a thrilling ride through a society sliding into the zombie apocalypse, utilizing a passenger train as his literal and metaphorical vehicle.

There will be always be room for the slow, shuffling, intestine-munching, rotting corpses ushered into the modern era by the maestro, George Romero, and popularized beyond all reasonable expectation by The Walking Dead. But the zombie fueled by an over-active adrenal gland has been controversial since its introduction in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Sure, it worked in that film and 28 Days Later, but it was a big part of the failure of the abysmal World War Z, which was a low-water mark in the recent rip tide of zombie projects. But with a premium here on speed, be it by locomotive looking for a safe haven or by foot when the survivors are forced to abandon the train, the ensuing chase that a sprinting member of the newly undead can provide is appropriate.

Yeon is best known for the two animated features he has directed to date, The King of Pigs and The Fake; both of which were strong works that provided unflinching looks at certain dark corners of Korean society. Train to Busan contains a bit of op-ed material as well, but the structure Yeon employs here is that of a standard disaster film. We are hurriedly introduced to a group of familiar characters that will steadily shrink into a handful of survivors – a couple of train employees, the teenage lovers, the tough guy made vulnerable by his very pregnant wife, the evil businessman, and the divorced dad and his neglected tween daughter. These passengers are familiar ones for film fans, but not so cliched as to invoke an abundance of eye rolls.

Yeon’s comic book sensibilities, emphasis on pace, and keen visual style combine for a thoroughly enjoyable and completely satisfying cinematic experience. The virus is effectively introduced in a brief, but stunningly effective prologue. There’s a brief slog through the dad and daughter backstory in order to get on the train, but once we’re all aboard, this baby rolls.

 

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