Train to Busan begins with a disturbing image that I wish the movie explored more. A farmer drives his truck into a quarantine zone and becomes distracted trying to reach his vibrating phone in the passenger seat. While his eyes are off the road, he runs over a deer. The farmer gets out, inspects his vehicle for damage, then resumes his journey. But the camera lingers in place and the dead animal suddenly lurches back to life. This begs so many questions, like what animals are infected? Do they only want to eat their own kind or will they attack anything they see? Unfortunately, Train to Busan is not the zombanimals movie I’ve been waiting for. It is, however, one of the most fun zombie movies I’ve seen in a while.
Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is a workaholic who is frustrated with battling his ex-wife for custody of their daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an). Su-an lives in Seoul with Seok-woo, while her mother is down in Busan. She desperately wants to visit Busan, but Seok-woo won’t let her go alone and is too busy to take her himself. When Su-an’s birthday rolls around, Seok-woo gives her the same Wii he already gave her for Children’s Day earlier that year, especially embarrassing since the Wii U would have been at the end of its lifespan in late 2016. So Seok-woo relents and agrees to take Su-an to Busan the next morning.
On the way to the train station, a massive convoy of emergency vehicles interrupts the family’s otherwise peaceful early morning drive. But nothing else seems out of the ordinary, and the duo board a high speed train to make their cross-country trip. Just before leaving the station, a woman with a bite wound in her leg gets onboard and begins convulsing. She suddenly turns violent, attacking passengers and turning them into zombies. Others run out of that car and lock the zombies inside, but it quickly becomes apparent that these are not the only zombies the passengers will have to worry about: all of Seoul, if not the whole country, seems to be experiencing an outbreak.
A big part of the fun of zombie movies are the characters, and Train to Busan has a great mix. Seok-woo being an absentee dad fund manager makes him exactly the kind of shitty guy you hope will turn out OK. Kim Su-an sure is great at crying. The other passengers we meet are even more compelling, my favorite being Ma Dong-seok’s tough working-class guy, I can’t wait to see him break out in the west with The Eternals next year. Also props to Kim Eui-sung for playing a rich asshole who keeps making terrible, selfish decisions that make everything worse for everybody. This movie is not subtle in its commentary on social issues.
The other thing that makes zombie movies fun are the situations they put the characters in, which, you’ve got to admit, there aren’t a lot of that haven’t already been done. Stuck in a train with zombies feels exciting, as Snowpiercer is probably the next closest to having that idea, and that movie didn’t have zombies. I also liked that these were fast, 28 Days Later/World War Z-style zombies that actually felt like they used to be people. Like, fighting a zombie who turned just seconds ago should feel like fighting a person, not a super soldier or a fragile 100-year-old. That’s what I like about Train to Busan, it may not reinvent the formula, but it really gets why people like it.