MIFF 2016: Train to Busan (2016)

Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Yoo Gong, Ma Dong-seok, Choi Woo-sik, Jeong Yu-mi, Kim Soo-an, Jin-hee

Set on the KTX express train that you can get from Seoul to Busan a busy futures trader Woo Seok (Yoo Gong) and his daughter Soo-an (Kim Soo-an) get a train down to her separated mother in Busan on her birthday when the girl threatens to go by herself.

It is well established that the dad is very busy and he even gets her the same present for her birthday that she has already due to not knowing enough about her. The girl’s grandmother looks after her during the day, but the girl pines after her mother.

On the way to the train they come across emergency services attending a large blaze, but other than that things seem very quiet.

Arriving at the train we meet the other main characters including a newlywed couple with a brawny man and pregnant woman, a high school baseball team, a high powered business men, an elderly daughter and her mother and other passengers. Everything seems normal until some people run onto the train at the last minute and the daughter sees someone get jumped but the train moves off too fast.

After some passengers complain about a “weirdo” in one of the toilets they find a homeless man babbling about everyone being killed. At the other end of the train a woman goes into a fit and is attended by a train conductor, only to get attacked herself and start off the infection.

News reports are confusing telling of riots and the futures trader gets updates via his phone, but falls asleep and his daughter wanders off looking for a free toilet.

Once the attacks begin on the passengers there is no way to fight them in such close quarters so the best people can do is run away and lock the door. They also find out if the zombies lose sight of people they will stop attacking so they cover the window.

The train driver is in touch via the intercom and radios with the conductor, but is having trouble getting in touch with base. He is told they are to stop at the next main station and the army will take care of them. Of course this is the worst thing they could do and things take off from there growing even more desperate as not everyone gets back on the train in the same spot, having be cut off from the main passengers by zombie filled carriages.

Everything gets more desperate towards the end and no one seems really to be safe in this film. People only looking after themselves and making the people who escaped through the zombies go off by themselves end up sealing their own fate. The young girl wonders to her dad why you can’t live your life helping other people when he tells her she has to look after himself.

The zombies are a mindless rolling wave of violence in this movie and the incubation period of the infection tends to change depending on the requirements of the plot.

The weapons used in the movie are what you could find on a train, with an extra riot shield and baton they pick up at one of the stops. This film has one of the best “arm yourself for battle” scenes I can remember in recent history. Having thick packing tape on your forearms guards against bites and the characters remember to take off any coats of clothing that can be grabbed.

They don’t just go in swinging either, they have to use tactics such as timing when tunnels are coming up due to the zombies vision being based on movement and then going after sounds by throwing things away from them. They lock the door at the end of each carriage as the zombies can’t open it.

Due to unavoidable circumstances the train eventually has to stop, leading to a final confrontation and everything up in the air. God bless diesel locomotives, is there nothing they can’t do?

It is an excellent horror action thriller movie, but different in tone to most Hollywood versions of the same story. Due to not having much access to guns there is always a danger of someone getting bitten and people are prone to being very emotional and crying that they could not save people.

There is an undercurrent of the government not knowing what it is doing as the futures trader’s inside tip of being rescued goes awry as the big rescue does not turn out that way.

This movie has been a big hit in Korea and also screened at several film festivals including the Korean Film Festival in Australia. As far as I know it has only screened with Seoul Station at MIFF.

This is the director’s first live action film but you could not really tell as it seems to be well put together and runs along at a good pace.

The little girl is the heart of the film even though her crying does get annoying towards the end. Kind of sucked the big muscly dude did not get more screen time, but he did get a good send-off holding off a swarm of zombies allowing his wife and the other passengers to escape.

There is scope of a sequel in the story, I would like to see “Return ticket to Seoul” where they send Thomas the Tank engine back up the line armed with machine guns and rocket launchers.

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