Train to Busan

Train to Busan ★★★½

It is always exciting to see films from world cinema generate a wealthy amount of financial success, there has been many examples over the past decade, but one that comes immediately to mind is Joon-ho Bong’s The Host (2006), and it seems another Korean film is set to match such successes. Train to Busan is a film by Sang-ho Yeon, who managed to have a worldwide debut at the Cannes Film Festival, and since then has garnered reputable reviews. It seems Korean audiences has an affinity towards the monster-genre, as Train to Busan once again finds their nation in a state of hysteria as an outbreak of zombies begin to consume its cities, following the few survivors that had made it to the early trip to Busan.

Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is a father and a white collar fund manager who is constantly tied in his work, and finds little time to spend with his daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an). It is evident that he cares for her deeply, and he argues with his ex-wife that she is better off with him, but it seems Su-an is desperate to return to the arms of her mother. This sense of disconnect would anchor as the film’s emotional core, one that would humanise the adventurous and horrifying journey of survival as their train becomes breached with an infected, endangering every passenger and potentially increasing its numbers.

The film manages to create thrilling tension and suspense as Yeon captures these moments of terror with such intimacy and seeming hopelessness, as the claustrophobic space limits their chance of survival, forcing them to creatively find alternative methods to ensure their safety. Train to Busan resists the political/scientific context as instead it finds concentration in the sociological and anthropological motivations of its victims, demonstrating the flaws in their inherent nature, emphasising the sense of detachment of the community when one has endured the life of great social or professional hierarchy. We witness the flawed nature of its protagonist as he explains to his daughter early on the necessities of attending to one’s own needs, especially upon such dire circumstances, but Su-an argues over the necessity of a stronger moral compass, to find compassion and understanding even in the most stressful of events, to still distinguish oneself as an equal to those around them. This is undoubtedly an interesting test of character, stimulating development upon its more quieter moments, but the film appears to lose its strengths once it indulges on the opportunities of emotional and thematic manipulation, one that intrudes upon the flow of the narrative.

It would emerge later in the film, the desperation and self-serving nature of a white collar businessman, one who relies on the sacrifice and obedience of others as he manipulates them to ensure the safety of his precious being. Though the concept of a more antagonistic figure is expected from such a film, but it is in the relentless progression that the film provides for the character, to the point where the story revolves itself around his necessity to reach a climactic finally, where the air of cliches cannot be denied nor compensated, to stimulate the sense of redemption that its protagonist would endure.

One also has to suffer from the film’s fluctuating sense of pacing, a factor that is more palpable in its latter half, as multiple potential climaxes begin to surface, only to find themselves still in continuation to another barricade for its characters to endure. There is nothing wrong with a film providing an array of set-pieces, but it has to be stitched itself in a manner that does not constantly shatter and rebuild our momentum, as this issue in itself could potentially restrict the impact of its character development. I am only thankful that through the Koreans’ sensibilities towards sentimentality, that they were able to proudly sell the relationship between Seok-woo and his daughter, with a moment at its true climax hitting a perfect emotional note, for which I was not able to resist the welling of tears.

Train to Busan does not reinvent the genre, but instead takes much of its thrills and content back to its roots, with horror tendencies that remain grounded at a human level, taking on the eyes of victims rather than glorified heroism that some of its peers tend to recently lean on. It may at times limp due to its shortcomings in its narrative, but there is enough to admire that one can safely come out of the film satisfied.

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