Don’t let the zombie thriller aspect fool you, as Train To Busan is actually a horror thriller with tons of heart and soul. Director Yeon Sang-Ho emphasizes melodramatic elements into his finely tuned and propulsive narrative, giving viewers a first rate moviegoing experience.
The story begins through the eyes of Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), an overworked fund manager who, though loving, doesn’t spend enough quality time with his daughter Su-an (Kim Suan who gives the movie’s most heartwrenching and effective performance). Su-an’s birthday wish is to travel from Seoul via train to visit her mother in Busan.
What begins as an innocuous trip immediately turns apocalyptic after a zombie outbreak engulfs everything around them, and as the train’s passengers are rapidly turning into zombies, the father and daughter’s only hope is to reach the seemingly safe confines of Busan.
Also doing their best to survive is a pregnant woman (Jung Yu-mi) and her tough guy husband (Ma Dong-seok), a group of high school baseball players and a cheerleader (An So-hee) , and a corporate executive (Kim Eui-sung) who is only concerned with his own well-being.
Though the opening act effectively sets up the family drama that’s infused throughout the narrative, the rest of Train to Busan is dominated by nail biting action sequences. Unlike many zombie tales, Train to Busan is not a gore-fest, so movie fans who dislike over the top, blood soaked violence should not be deterred from the flick.
Most of the “thrills” from watching Train to Busan is derived from seeing how the dwindling survivors use their wits and their bravery to evade and at times attack the growing horde of zombies, and even though the picture’s running time is at a hefty 118 minutes, there isn’t a ton of unnecessary fat to the storyline. One elongated sequence, in which Seok-woo and two other survivors must pass through several zombie infested train cars to get to his daughter, is tour de force filmmaking from Yeon Sang-Ho, and his combined skill set as a visualist and storyteller would be perfect for a big budget, stateside “tentpole” flick (hopefully movie execs in the U.S. are paying close attention).
But the true heart of Train to Busan centers on the sacrifices we must make when push (or for that matter zombies) comes to shove. Seok-woo, though a loving and well meaning dad, doesn’t understand the responsibilities of being a father and this tale gives the character a wonderful evolution. Kim Su-an is absolutely believable as the daughter, and by the film’s climax you’ll be pulling for this family to make it through this undead nightmare.
Train To Busan may feature zombies as its selling point, but thanks to pinpoint acting and a compelling story that doesn’t get overly sentimental, this train arrives at a totally different (and welcome) destination.
Train To Busan is now playing in select theaters including the CGV Cinemas in Los Angeles and AMC Empire in New York. To hear my review of Train to Busan on the latest episode of CinemAddicts, check out the Soundcloud bar below: