Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 10, 2020)
For a mix of action and horror, we head to Korea for 2016’s Train to Busan. We meet Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), a divorced man whose work keeps him preoccupied.
Due to his heavy schedule, Seok-woo grows estranged from his young daughter Su-an (Seok-woo). To make her happy, Seok-woo takes Su-an on a train ride from Seoul to Busan so she can see her mother.
As they make this trek, however, a virus spreads and turns masses of humans into zombies. The outbreak reaches the train and leaves Seok-woo and Su-an to fight for their lives in this enclosed space.
Perhaps unfairly, it seems difficult not to compare Busan to 2014’s Snowpiercer, partly because they offer action stories set on trains. In terms of the “unfairly” part, though, that occurs because both Snowpiercer and Busan come from Korean directors, and it feels slightly wrong to link the two just due to the nationality of the filmmakers.
That said, I doubt Sang-ho Yeon will mind too much if we compare him to an Oscar-winner like Snowpiercer’s Joon-ho Bong.
Whatever similarities we find, Busan separates from Snowpiercer due to themes and tone. Whereas Bong offered a heaping dose of social commentary with his action, Busan progresses more as a pure thriller/horror tale.
If Yeon wants to create any deeper meaning to Busan, he keeps it pretty well hidden – or I just got too wrapped up in the mayhem to think about such topics. After a fairly quick intro to our protagonists, the zombie assault begins, and we find ourselves in the thick of things, with little time to ponder much beyond how the characters will survive in such a confined space.
Of course, one may ask “why not just stop the train and evacuate?”, but Busan accounts for that potential plot hole. I won’t offer potential spoilers, but the film ensures that it finds a way to avoid that logical “out”.
This leaves the characters trapped on the train most of the time. Despite the potential monotony due to the limited sets, Busan manages to develop the material in clever ways.
In many ways, Busan reminds me of disaster movies more than horror, mainly via the way it develops its characters. Ala flicks such as The Poseidon Adventure, we find disparate folks who need to overcome animosity and band together for the greater good.
While Busan finds nothing especially new in these themes, it still utilizes the clichés in a manner that makes them work. As I mentioned, Busan doesn’t worry about deeper meaning or social importance – it just wants to give us a rollicking jolt to the senses, with a little emotion connected to the father/daughter relationship as well.
And in that regard, it succeeds. A lively, action-packed, tense tale, Busan becomes a fun ride.