A: The body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.
B: The supernatural force itself.
Zombie movies are my passion. One of the first zombie movies I saw next to Night of the Living Dead was the black-and-white film White Zombie staring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy and Joseph Cawthorn (to name a few.) Zombies are integrated in our culture from movies to books to TV shows to even drinks. Zombie movies are also a major part of our culture. If you asked someone to name their favorite and least favorite zombie movie they’d give you a massive list. If you branched out from American zombie movies to other cultures you’d be surprised that many other countries don’t have as many zombie movies as America does. South Korea is one of those countries making their first step into the gruesome foray that is the zombie genre.
The movie I’m talking about is Train to Busan and what a movie it is. I wasn’t sure about this movie when I first saw the poster. I sorta had flashbacks to watching Speed as a kid and that’s what it looked like to me. Then I started reading other people’s reviews of it on a lot of the horror blogs and podcasts I follow (big shout out to them.) People were raving about this movie and talking about how it’s the first zombie movie from South Korea and how wonderfully done it was. I’m the type to give any movie a shot so I decided to sit down and watch it. I was not disappointed.
I’ll talk at first the buildup of the movie, what leads up to the action and horror. At the beginning of the film we see a road block and a group of hazmat clad individuals stopping motorists to spray down their car. A hog truck driver stops and complains about the recent stops and them destroying his livestock because of a recent outbreak of an illness they thought was foot and mouth disease. After being reassured that the stop is only precaution and is waved along the road the man drives off still complaining. We watch as he takes his eyes off the road for a minute to reach for his phone when his truck hits something hard. He gets out and sees that he’s run over and killed a deer. As he drives off we watch the camera slowly pan back over to the deer where we watch as the once seemingly dead deer peels itself from the pavement. We start to realize something serious is going to happen when he looks towards the camera and we see that its neck is broken.
The first time I saw this movie and I saw the beginning of it, I knew it was going to be good but I also started wondering what kind of zombies they were going to use in this movie. For those unsure of what I mean by that, there are various different versions of zombies in different movies. There are zombies, the flesh-eating ghouls that shamble across the screen to its victims and tears them to shreds while eating them. Then there are plague carriers, those infected with a virus that are neither dead nor living but are infected with something that causes them to hunt down victims. On more than one occasion I’ve argued with someone about the difference and their argument is always the same: what you just described was zombies. Plague carrier zombies aren’t hunting for the flesh and meat of their victims but rather they hunt down healthy hosts to pass on their virus because the virus in their body or brain is telling them to pass on the virus. Many times, the plague carrier zombies are brought forth by a virus or disaster like in 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. Of course, plenty of zombies are brought to life like this but I’m just pointing out one kind right now.
The movie is a slow burn after the opening, introducing us to our main character, a single father funds manager named Seak-woo and building up to the action from there. Seak-woo’s daughter Su-an wants to go see her mother in Busan and is really willing to go by herself if her father doesn’t take her. After much thought, Seak-woo finally agrees to take his daughter to see her mother for her birthday. This is where we start getting small little peeks that something big is about to happen. On the way to the train station Seak-woo slams on the brakes to avoid colliding with a firetruck, both father and daughter watch as numerous firetrucks and police cars respond to a nearby high-rise apartment fire. Ash falls around them as they continue on.
The movie does a good job of building atmosphere with the ash slowly falling and Su-an watching it. It tricks us into thinking it’s a normal apartment fire until a little while later and we’re made to remember it. We see several things do this, one being a woman stumbling, injured and convulsing with a bite mark on her leg, onto the train behind the train worker standing on the platform. Another is a homeless man found by workers in the bathroom mumbling incoherently about “they’re all dead.” At first it confuses you as at this point some will forget that this is a zombie movie but it draws you back into remembering the apartment fire we saw and it makes you think.
As the train departs we watch the train worker on the platform walk over to the nearby stairs where, at the top, a group of people are crowded around something. We don’t get to see what it is until the last second, as the train pulls away, we catch a glimpse of something tackling the train worker. This is what I mean by build-up for the movie. We still have no idea what is going on, what the zombies look like, or anything. Its slowly building up to it.
If I said anymore then I’d be jumping into massive spoiler territory and I will not do that, but I will discuss how I feel personally feel about Train to Busan and other great things about it. It’s the first zombie movie to come out of South Korea and it is distinctly Korean. By that I mean it takes you from your normal Americanized zombie movie and puts you in the mindset of the Korean character we are introduced to. I know many are questioning why the movie is called Train to Busan and what’s so important about Busan. Sliding into the historical side of things, the city of Busan at one point was one of the last lines of defense in the Korean War, having remained in the control of the Republic of Korea throughout the war. Because of this, Busan, or as it was known during that time as Pusan, is still a vast self-governing metropolis.
Another thing that makes it distinctly Korean is that it brings you into the culture and current political mind set of the country. When I watched the movie for the first time, there was a line that stuck out to me, spoken by a pair of elderly sisters named In-gil and Jong-gil on the train as they watched the news of the supposed riots. One of the sisters turned to the other and said “People nowadays will riot over anything. In the old days, they’d be re-educated.” The other sister looked at her scared and worried. It struck me as an odd thing to say until I really thought about it. The only time you would have heard that was from someone who survived a tyrannical regime. By the age of this woman, I would guess at some point she might have been caught up in the Korean War. I also quickly took note that during the speech by the Minister of Health, no one paid him attention and rather looked into what was happening themselves. If you are aware of current South Korean politics, the former President of South Korea was ousted on accusations of bribery, abuse of power and coercion. Protests broke out and many protestors clashed with police. As such, you’ll notice a small distrust in what the Minister says and indeed you can tell the Minister withholds many things from his speech and asks for people to stop referring to the protestors as ‘zombies’ as they are not. It’s small things like this that draw you in fully and help with the story telling of the movie. I applaud the director and writer for including this as it’s another way to help you with identifying with those characters.
If I was asked to recommend a zombie movie with good visuals, plot, some comedy, and a few scenes that just rip out your heart, I would immediately scream Train to Busan.