I am not a usual frequenter of South Korean films, or particularly enthusiastic when it comes to horror/thrillers, because of my personal stereotype that Korean films are usually sappy love stories about forbidden love or familial rivalries and that horror or thriller films usually focus on jumpscares than the plot itself. Those were the reasons why I stayed away from them for so long. However, the experience I got from Train to Busan, may have changed my mind about Korean films.
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, Train to Busan is an action-thriller about a zombie apocalypse unraveling as a train leaves on its presumely-final journey towards Busan, the last safe place in South Korea. Immediately, the film Snowpiercer, an English-South Korean film involving a train as well, came to my mind. Similarly, the survivors on board the film’s train had to fight or escape through the train carriages for survival, but with zombies this time round. The zombies are no easy feat to destroy too, as they move and infect fast (World War Z-fast). So, I guess you could say that on the surface, this film is like Snowpiercer meets World War Z.
Train to Busan defies typical action-thiller expectations with its magnificent narrative, though. Yeon’s film is more than just a plot to get the survivors of the train to Busan. It does not just question humanity’s survival in an apocalyptic world, it questions the human part that gives the word humanity its meaning, on a Nietzschen-level. Pitting humans against monsters, or “monsters” against monsters, Yeon balances between South Korean films’ trademark heartstrings-tugging narratives and Hollywood’s trademark thrills and action to deliver a masterpiece that puts past zombie films to shame (looking at you, World War Z).
While the film jumps relatively quickly into the main zombie-surviving plot, it is marred by its inconsistent pacing. I was exhausted after the tension and action leading up to the first false climax, but the film satisfies you with a final climatic end that is sure to bring tears to all viewers. But this is really nit-picking already.
Overall, Train to Busan is not the typical South Korean film, nor is it a typical zombie film. Its fine balance between drama and thrills makes sure that viewers leave the theatres with heart-wrenching and heart-pumping experience.