Review: ‘Train to Busan’ A Non-Stop Zombie Ride With Heart

With hit shows like The Walking Dead and its spin-off Fear The Walking Dead, it has been zombie season for quite some time.  While zombies are at an all-time high on the small screen, we haven’t heard much from the undead on the big screen.  Sure, we’ve had a few films here and there like Maggie, Dead Snow, World War Z, and the REC and Resident Evil series, but for the most part we haven’t had a slam dunk zombie apocalypse film for quite some time.  Leave it to South Korea to revitalize the franchise in a way that hasn’t been done since 28 Days Later (still waiting on that third film!).  

Director Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan is quite an entertaining film that differs from other films in that it actually has a heart and reminds us to depend on our fellow man.  For quite some time, The Walking Dead has reminded us that the worst monster is your neighbors, who as soon as it hits the fan will leave you to be eaten.  The old saying of “I only need to run faster than you” has been a part of pop culture when it comes to navigating the apocalypse.  In Train to Busan, it’s about helping fellow strangers, or else you are no better than the soulless monsters you are trying to avoid.  

The film follows Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) a divorced hedge fund manager and all around terrible person.  As soon as you meet him, you want him to become zombie food immediately as he seems to only care about the bottom line.  He’s the exact person who wouldn’t be built to survive the zombie apocalypse because he’s just a selfish snob.  However, he does deeply care for his daughter, even if his ex-wife and daughter don’t know it.  To make up for his failing as a father, he agrees to take his adorable daughter to see her mother in the city of Busan, more than a 200-mile train ride away.  They hop on the train with a cast of colorful characters on what seems to be any normal day, but of course, today’s going to be anything but normal.

As it hits the fan, it becomes a life and death struggle against hordes of zombies and they navigate getting to safety as the world is coming apart all around them.  Managing investment accounts is no longer the priority for Seok-woo.  Ensuring his daughter is safe and survives all the mayhem becomes his sole focus.  Through this ordeal, we meet a wide range of characters the share this adventure with: a husband and his pregnant wife, two elderly sisters, a homeless man, and members of a baseball team as they all try to remain alive as people are turning into zombie left and right.

Now let’s talk about the zombies.  The film does a great job at setting up the rules in this zombie universe.  Although we never learn the true root cause of how zombies came, nor do we see a “Patient Zero” zombie, we quickly learn the rules to this brand of zombies.  These are zombies similar to 28 Days Later, in which you only have a few moments before someone is turned.  There’s no time for heartfelt goodbyes if a loved one is attacked.  You better put them down or start sprinting.  Speaking of sprinting, these zombies mirror 28 Days Later because they are all Olympic runners and once they see you, tough luck.  Speaking of seeing you, turns out you have to be in their line of sight and they are light sensitive.  This helps out a bunch when the trains go into tunnels and the zombies have less visibility in the darkness than normal humans do.

As much of Train to Busan takes place on the train, the film is very claustrophobic.  Much of the action takes place is small cars and when the rain goes through tunnels they have to slowly tip toe past zombies without making a sound.  There are a few moments that take place off the train, but this is done to displays to the audience that this apocalypse isn’t just happening to them and it shows the scale of which the world has gone to hell.  While in most zombie films the hero has a gun and always does the “double tap” to make sure the zombie is dead, this film is full of commuters, so there's no lethal weapons to use.  Try defeating a rabid Olympic-sprinting zombie with just your fists.  If you are lucky, you got to use a baseball bat against hordes of train zombies.  The film is more “action horror” than “survival horror” as there aren’t many jump scares.  There are a few action scenes that are well choreographed as the core group goes into battle with the undead.  

As stated before, the film is a commentary on heling your fellow man.  The arc that Seok-woo goes through is a welcome one.  When it starts going bad, he’s all about himself and his daughter, but throughout the ordeal, he begins to show his humanity.  The antagonist in the film is a few passengers, especially an older business man who’s strictly about himself.  He’s someone that Seok-woo possibly sees himself as if he continues his selfish ways, so he decides to make a change and help out his fellow strangers on the train.  The film balances the right amount of action, horror, and heart.  By the end of the film: you’ve screamed, you’ve cried, and you’ve felt better about humanity.

Rating: 4 out of 5