I know what you’re probably thinking… two blog posts in one week!? Is she sick!? Is she dying!? Alas the answer is no… I’m just incredibly bored and have a wealth of time. And to take advantage of that time to my best abilities, I decided to take a break from watching Chinese Drama Boss and Me interspersed with Harry Potter fanvids to update you on a recent film I watched called Train to Busan! Beware… spoilers ahead!
If anyone has the time to scroll through my early blog posts (i.e. nobody, I know, leave me be), they will probably find proof of my unadulterated adoration for the Korean drama Coffee Prince, and more specifically, its main eye candy Gong Yoo. The man has a pair of eyes that pierce through to the depths of any poor sucker’s soul, and he’s also an incredible actor.
Gong Yoo is pretty much the definition of sexy ajusshi at this point, and I know literally no international kdrama fan who dislikes the man. He’s had a slew of hit films over the past few years, so when Train to Busan was first mentioned, pretty much everyone got excited. Sexy papa tries to save daughter on a train filled with zombies? How can a girl turn that plot down? But… what easily could have been a bust film actually hit cinemas with a huge wave. Not only did it garner critical acclaim, even going so far as to debut in Cannes, but it was also a hit with cinema-goers in Korea, where it broke box office records with over 10 million viewers after only two months out.
Since May, the film has continued to grow, and you can even find it in select cinemas within the US. Considering I had the privilege to see it (*cough* find it online *cough*), I decided to share the love and give my thoughts on this brilliant movie.
Story (Seriously… spoilers)
For those who don’t know, the film takes place in modern day South Korea, where some sort of chemical plant has had a leakage, though at first we’re unsure of the effects. Our main character Seok Woo, played by Gong Yoo, is a cold and disenchanted fund manager who has taken the charge of his adorable daughter Su-An since his divorce. We meet the family the day before Su-An’s birthday, and it soon becomes clear that while Seok Woo cares dearly for his girl, he’s far too busy with work to have a close relationship with her. Feeling sad and alone, the girl’s one wish for her birthday is to visit her mom in Busan the next day. Though Seok Woo tries to come up with excuses, he eventually caves and takes the day off work so the two of them can take an express train to Busan.
On the train, there are a variety of interesting characters. Starting with resident teddy bear ajusshi Sang-Hwa (Ma Dong Seok) and his pregnant wife Sung Yeong (Jung Yumi). Sang-Hwa, despite his gruff appearance, has a heart of gold. Devoted to his kind-hearted wife and hell-bent on protecting her, he ends up becoming the moral compass and bodyguard for the group of ragtag survivors on the train.
There are also the two surviving high schoolers, played by Wonder Girls So-Hee and Choi Woo Sik. On a trip to a baseball game, So-Hee’s character follows Woo Sik as his personal “cheerleader” despite the fact that he hasn’t confessed his (obvious yet hidden) feelings to her yet.
And last but not least, Kim Eui-Sung, who continues his trend of playing hateful characters after his most recent appearance as the Dad in W: Two Worlds. Eui Sung plays the typical human villain who is so intent on self-preservation he willfully endangers most of our group of intrepid heroes numerous times throughout the film.
The pace of the film picks up dramatically as soon as the characters arrive on the train. A girl who was bitten manages to rush on just as they leaves Seoul, and soon has managed to turn a whole host of individuals into zombies. However, our plucky group of heroes are are smart and manage to survive for much longer than the average individuals. Despite the many setbacks they face, they manage to pick up on the zombies’ weaknesses, like their inability to see in the dark. Using this information to their advantage, our heroes fight it out in some pretty epic scenes.
But alas, as is necessary with all zombie films, not everyone can survive. First, Sang-Hwa has an epic hero’s death, sacrificing himself to allow his wife and the others to escape into a safe carriage. He is followed by the high schoolers. After So-Hee’s character gets pushed in front of a zombie by Kim Eui-Sung (who I honestly want to punch for so many characters at this point), her almost-boyfriend stays with her despite the danger so the two can face their ends together. Kim Eui-Sung gets bitten after committing a variety of ridiculously selfish acts, and then bites (my beloved) Gong Yoo before he manages to fully bite the dust. Our hero, finally having reconnected with his daughter on a deeply emotional level and proving to her just how much he cares, dies with the memories of Su-An as a baby rolling through his head.
Su-An and Sung Yeong barely make it alive to Busan. The city has managed to keep out the zombie affliction and is a safe haven amongst the rest of the destruction. The military at first are unsure whether the two girls are humans or zombies, but just as the soldiers are about to shoot them, Su-An sings the song she always wished to perform to her father. The soldiers put down their weapons and usher them to safety.
This film is, unsurprisingly, excellent, and completely worth all the hype that it has received over the past few months. Honestly, I tend not to like Korean films that much, because I find most of them feel slow when you’re watching them. Train to Busan is 100% an exception. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time when watching this film. And, unlike most stereotypical zombie flicks, this film is shot beautifully. The colors, art, and cinematography are incredible.
That being said, if you’re looking for the typical scares and thrills of a horror film, Train to Busan doesn’t shy away from the gore. Though beautifully shot, the zombies are pretty terrifying. I love the way they twitch, as though bones in their bodies are broken and yet they’re still driven on to seek fresh flesh. I wouldn’t recommend watching this at night if you’re easily spooked.
However, the emotions and heart is what truly sets this film apart from most generic horror movies. This film managed to make me feel for every single relationship and character in the film. Ma Dong Seok and Jung Yumi’s relationship was utterly winning. I was heartbroken when his character died, but I loved that the last thing he did was to name their unborn daughter. To the very end, his last action was that of a father and protector.
Similarly, the relationship between Seok Woo and Su-An is really what grounds the entire film. Starting off as cold and distant, by the end of the film Seok Woo has completely transformed into the loving father Su-An really needs. His death is so much more tragic after having watched him finally win the trust and adoration from his daughter that he had been seeking from the very beginning of his arc.
Korean cinema has an ability to bleed heart and emotional depth into stories in a way that a lot of Western action flicks lack, and Train to Busan is a perfect example of this. I’ve heard that multiple countries are attempting to do remakes of this film, but I truly hope that they don’t manage it. I sincerely doubt that this story will be as special in the hands of others, and I hate watching the magic of an original film get diminished by its clunkier, Western counterparts.
That being said, I give this film a 9/10, and an A rating. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and it even made me cry, which is not what I expected from a zombie film. Though I wished more characters survived, the emotional payoff of all the tragic deaths were worth it. Even if the image of Gong Yoo dying will make me cry for years to come.
Anyways, what are your thoughts? As usual, comments are loved!