I have been waiting to watch this South Korean zombie film with my Korea-obsessed daughter and it did not disappoint. Now one of my favourite zombie movies (I’m a bit partial to both Dawn of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies), it had me hiding behind a cushion for most of its 118 minutes.
The first live-action feature film by Yeon Sang-Ho, it follows on from his feature length animation Seoul Station (2016). It has characters you care about, action that never lets up and I was breathless and a little teary by the end.
Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo) is an absent father to Soo-an (Kim Su-an). He has a fractious relationship with his ex-wife and is so caught up in his work as a funds manager that he constantly neglects his daughter. In a moment of contrition he agrees to take her to see her mother in Busan. As they board the train, a riot breaks out at the station and one battered and bloodied woman boards just as the doors close.
We know this is a zombie movie and what this woman has brought aboard. The train is sealed off from the rest of the world as it hurtles through the countryside so this one point of infection, like the first diseases brought to indigenous peoples around the world by colonists, is set to devastate this artificial community.
On the train with Seok-woo and Soo-an are burly Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and his heavily pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi). A few carriages away are a boisterous baseball team where Jin-hee (K-pop idol Soohee) tries to catch the attention of shy Yong-guk (Choi Woo-sik). The villain is selfish businessman Yon-suk (Kim Eui-sung) who is interested only in saving his own skin.
Like the interesting but far less coherent and unsatisfying Snowpiercer, our heroes must fight their way through each carriage in order to survive. They are also racing against time and the dangers of the outside world as they try to find a safe place to disembark.
The morality of each character, other than the child and the expectant mother and of course the villain, is not at first clear and the narrative development of Seok-woo and Sang-hwa is particularly interesting. In many ways they represent two sides of masculinity and Seok-woo’s journey is to reconcile who he is as a man.
It’s quite a violent film but the gore is not lingered on. The zombies are believable and evince sympathy as well as horror as we recognise how recently they were human. There is enough suspense that we are never sure who will survive and the final scene is nicely handled.
Have you seen this film? What’s your favourite zombie flick? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.