Train to Busan: Beneath the Zombies

Happy September everyone! Let’s hope that it will be good for all of you in dramaland~ Here I’ll be welcoming the new month with my take on 부산행 (Busan-haeng), the latest zombie film that swept the box offices of its native South Korea and countries in the world!

I had the opportunity the catch this much-anticipated film at the theatres – it was like a beautiful painting with many eye-catching elements. Then you know sometimes when we appreciate such artwork for instance and become too engrossed with the prettiness on the surface, we forget that there is also much substance within. Whatever that is inside tells us what the painter wants to portray, the story as well as feelings that he wants to tell and show. That pretty much sums up my experience with Train to Busan: with the issues explored and questions posed throughout, it was definitely more than just the zombie horror.

[This is a spoiler-free review]

Gong Yoo cracking a nervous smile after the movie screening at Festival de Cannes XD

Just like how D-Day was the first Korean disaster drama produced, this is the first ever zombie-centric Korean movie made. To be honest, the idea of zombies doesn’t interest me; I was never a fan of zombie films so I basically went to watch it for the thrill. Also to see Gong Yoo and Ma Dong-seok, of course 😉 That being said, there was a certain level of anticipation going into it because the blockbuster was one of the Korean movies selected for premiere at Festival de Cannes this year, a film festival in France. I’m glad I wasn’t disappointed, and I am happy for everyone who played their part in making this film a hit, both in front and backstage.

This is the second collaboration between Gong Yoo and Jung Yu-mi, since starring in The Crucible (also known as Silenced) back in 2011. It was sooo heartbreaking, but I shall leave that for next time. Ma Dong-seok, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee, Kim Eui-sung and child actress Kim Su-an round up the rest of the main cast. Each of them play characters who come from all walks of life, and are people we might meet in real life. Since they could be any of the passer-bys in our midst, it makes them relatable. The moment I started caring for them as a fellow human, there was an emotional connection shared. For audience like me, I would say that it was pretty good engagement on a community’s level.

THEMES

The best thing about Train to Busan is really the issues raised and questions posed throughout the movie. These are the gist of points I picked up.

  • They often say a crisis brings people together, but here it shows that crises can bring people apart too. Do you consider helping others, or do you only think for yourself? This brings in the moral compass, which might be even more important in unexpected situations. Would you still act according to your principles, or does instinct kick in?

There is added stress in us whenever we face chaotic situations or things that are out of our control. This will bring out reactions that will gear towards either end of the spectrum; they’re opposite and people have many different ways to cope with stress.

  • Social standing. Does your social class matter, in life-or-death situations? Would words from an unkempt individual be less credible that those from a well-dressed person? Or would they be treated the same way?

I really like that the movie reflects social problems faced by the South Korean society (and perhaps societies across the world) at every opportunity, because sometimes it is only when you put things into the big picture that people will start thinking that it is an issue and something needs to be done about it.

  • Humanity. What makes us human? Alternatively, what does it mean to be human? This is a question with multiple answers, and yet something we unknowingly ask ourselves everyday. When making a choice, how do you determine what’s right and what’s wrong? This may seem easy, but it could ultimately lead to: what would you do when life/circumstances forces you to make difficult decision(s)?

We often face dilemmas because of this. However, life goes on no matter what happens. Whatever decisions we make, there are bound to be some repercussions. Eventually it boils down to you as a person, what is important to you? And what kind of individual do you want to become? I usually think medical dramas are mostly the ones that deal with humanity, but now I can say that Train to Busan deftly touches on this theme too. And it strikes a chord with me universally.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In summary, the movie raises some questions, such as what we would do if we were in these characters’ shoes; in the face of danger or adversity, how would we react? To give an overview in terms of the film, the characters living their daily lives is the status quo. The disruption then comes in the form of zombie attacks, which consequently leads to the breakdown that typically refers to the reactions of different groups of people and each of the main characters. Survival instinct also comes into play and the response would be based on fight or flight – would you summon all your guts and fight to survive or run to defend yourself?

Going back to how I started this review, the visuals are so strong and powerful that your eyes are kept glued to the screen. The cinematography is also very polished, the film is beautifully shot – credit to Director Yeon Sang-ho in his live action debut, editor, action director, camera men and everyone who worked hard behind the scenes! I cannot forget to mention the detail put into the look of the zombies; lots of effort put in there and you can catch a glimpse in the trailer below. Yes, the film is nice to look at and the action is one thrilling roller-coaster but in retrospect, it’s hard to forget the inner message put across that is worth reflecting on. The zombies are a real highlight but if you look beneath them, you’ll discover that there is so much more that the movie relays to its viewers. Finally, great job to all the cast who had to go through this ‘terror’ in order to portray the emotions of their character as common passengers on the Busan-bound train. I would like to say “Well done and thank you!” to all of them 🙂 In my book, this is definitely worth the big-screen experience.

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7 thoughts on “Train to Busan: Beneath the Zombies

  1. Thanks for the lovely review, Jas! Zombies aren’t my thing either, but community and humanity are definitely themes I can get behind. Plus, it’s Gong Yoo ❤ I’ve been putting off watching this one simply coz it’s not the genre of movie I typically go for (plus I don’t watch all that many movies), but it looks like I should check this one out, sooner than later! 😉

    1. You’re welcome kfangurl, thanks a lot for your support hehe ❤ Yup, same here! I went to watch it also because I haven’t watched Gong Yoo in action for some time now. Guess I miss him XD Aww it’s okay I don’t watch that many films either; but yes I hope you’ll enjoy it too!

  2. I certainly had a lot of fun with this movie. As a lover of horror and zombies, it was definitely up my alley from the start but I was also quite pleased with how it came out. The inclusion of themes you’ve pointed out here was one of my favourite things about the movie, though I can’t necessarily say it was able to go very in-depth in terms of depicting them. But I still liked that it made you care about the characters before killing them off.

    In terms of action and thrills, I’d say it was a really solid movie. It had a fast pace and confined the zombies in a train, so the situation felt a lot more hopeless and claustrophobic with danger constantly being present. Overall, while it wasn’t necessarily the most unique zombie experience, the movie took an interesting direction and did a nice job at executing it. It probably doesn’t deserve all the hype it got, but I personally got the experience I wanted.

    1. Hi Indigo! I had lots of fun too, though not a fan of zombies/horror. Yup definitely, one can tell that the themes were part of the focus from the production team. That’s true, but it successfully reflected many social problems – despite zombies being fictional. Yes that was also a plus for me.
      Certainly. The action thriller part of the movie really stood out, and that was what kept most viewers at the edge of their seats. I agree with you since zombie films are really common these days, but the whole movie was captivating and somewhat engaging. Spot-on about the direction and execution! 🙂 And you’re right: hype is good but over-hype is never something great. Me too, it’s still a film worth the watch.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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