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5 Years Later: Train to Busan

29 August 21 words: Yasmin Turner

Jump aboard this South Korean zombie thrill ride, complete with social satire and gore, in time for its 5th anniversary.

Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Gong Yoo, Yu-mi Jung, Ma Dong-seok
Running time: 118 minutes

Train to Busan is a non-stop horror film that leaves you on edge every single frame, whilst cleverly commenting on the government’s inability to handle rampant predicaments. Incorporating emotional drama enough to pull on your heart strings, all through Yeon Sang-ho’s breathless cinematic experience, you won’t be disappointed. More visually stimulating than World War Z and faster-moving than 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake, this film occupies a 28 Days Later and The Girl with All the Gifts landscape but maintains its originality with a rail-borne zombie plague.

The action starts with a truck driving through a biochemical quarantine zone, the reminder of the current pandemic an eerie, but not deliberate, addition. The driver hits a deer that swiftly springs back to life, a milky malevolence in its eyes. Meanwhile, divorced fund manager Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) reads articles of “Mysterious Fish Death”, adding an additional layer to the suspense. He grudgingly gives in to his daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an), who wants to visit her mother in Busan, after losing to guilt when he misses her singing recital because he is too busy at work. But the worst imaginable situation of “passenger disturbance” begins to unfold as father and daughter board the high-speed KTX train from Seoul to Busan, in company with an escalating plague.

Before you have time to relax, a platform attack noticed through the young eyes of the daughter on the departing train provides a sinister insight into the events to come. Seconds later, a monumental mass of flesh-eaters engulfs the aisles, seats and corridors in a flame of limb-cracking ghastliness.

If you manage to look past the contorting limbs, valuable life-lessons are reconsidered throughout the duration that may or may not let them make it into the final reel. “At a time like this, you only look out for yourself”, Seok-woo tells Su-an when she gives up her seat to a woman in higher need. But, just as we discovered during the pandemic, it is the kindness and sacrifice of others that grants triumph and in this case, the safety of the young daughter.

The surge of violence and plague can be viewed as a larger metaphor for traits already circulating in society

As seen in Yeon’s previous work, an underlying distrust of the government and authority is apparent in the wake of the 2015 Mers outbreak, but will resonate even more so now in light of the current Coronavirus pandemic. An authoritarian voice can be heard saying, “Fellow citizens, please refrain from responding to baseless rumours”, as social media depicts apocalyptic images of bloodshed on the streets and bodies falling from the sky onto cities. 

The surge of violence and plague can be viewed as a larger metaphor for traits already circulating in society, suggested through Seok-woo when he is described as “a bloodsucker” who “leeches off others” in his fund manager job, even as zombies are sinking their teeth into passengers on the train. This is shown in a more overtly obvious manner through the barbaric Kim Eui-sung, a snotty executive who gives definition to the phrase “every man for himself” as he blatantly deceives others and pushes them in front of zombies in order to save himself but eventually succumbs to his fate in a “actions have consequences” style.

Which, if any, passengers evade this fate? Check out Yeon’s Seoul Station for an animated backdrop, but you certainly don’t need an initiation to enjoy this non-stop horror thriller.

Did you know? The film was initially conceived when producers convinced Yeon to make a live-action follow-up to Seoul Station. Train to Busan was ultimately released first, with Seoul Station being re-marketed as a prequel and released just a month later.

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