Movie review - Train to Busan

Jun 19, 2017

Not often does a native Korean film garner as much international acclaim as Train to Busan. Debuting at Cannes, it went on to see screenings all throughout the world–I recall very average movie theaters in Paris playing a French version the summer it came out. It starts off with a premise very typical of the usual post-apocalyptic zombie fare: a mysterious infection breaks out somewhere, leading to widespread panic tearing apart a country. The movie eschews a macro-level view of the crisis, focusing on the journey of a few main characters and the decisions they have to make.


The visual standards are up to par for any major international release. Korea no longer trails behind Hollywood in terms of capability, but different sensibilities mean the movie is light on gore, despite the high levels of violence implied. It is not a horror film. Viewers expectingo ne will be disappointed by the lack of jump scares or visual shock value.

The movie barely touches on the wider impact of the infection, such as its origin or consequences, and only (South) Korea is ever portrayed. The film focuses on the individuals. The cast is nothing surprising. There is the distant family man, who does not value the people in his life; the young couple, their love being stretched to its limits by the panic around them; the “tough” guy who leads the gang of survivors; the “villain” who seems only concerned with his own self-preservation; and, finally, the child, the future that makes the struggle all worth it. The fates and developments of the characters are fairly predictable, and I was fairly disappointed by the main non-zombie antagonist of the film: Yon-suk. To give the movie its “bad guy”, his villainous actions often felt over-the-top in their psychopathy, stretching believability. There is some attempt at fleshing out his motivations, but it all comes too little and too late.


Unusually compared to western films of the type, the movie carries a strong moral message. Ultimately, it is only when the survivors work selflessly together that they can survive the infection. The importance of family is also stressed many times. It is a clear appeal to the Eastern sense of collectivism and importance placed on the family. I am not from the culture, and so it can feel a bit cheesy at times, but is still a nice contrast to the substanceless drivel that often comes out of Hollywood these days.


Train to Busan is a more unique take on the zombie survival genre, clearly bearing the influence of its country of origin. Fast and entertaining, its tendency toward genre cliches is offset by its simple uniqueness compared to most other movies available these days. Watch it, understanding that its target audience may be a culture that is not your own.