Review: TRAIN TO BUSAN, aka BUSANHAENG (2016){0}

28 AwayDays Later…

The first challenge in writing a review of Yeon Sang-Ho’s Train to Busan is resisting the urge to use any railway analogies. (My editor has probably added one above, for which I make no apologies – unless it’s really, really bad.)

The second challenge is to say something more helpful than ‘Just go and see this goddamn movie, right now, on the biggest screen you can find.’ At a time when Hollywood is finding it increasingly difficult to deliver the goods – let’s be honest, Don’t Breathe is the only decent American horror film released this year that wasn’t a sequel, prequel or reboot of some kind – Train to Busan not only proves that there is, incredibly, life in the zombie subgenre yet, but also provides a much-needed shot in the arm for the horror genre as a whole. Except that it’s a shot of adrenalin, stabbed straight into the heart. Not only is it one of the best horror movies you’ve ever seen, it’s all of the best horror video games you’ve ever played. How good is it? Let’s put it this way, do you remember the first time you saw Duel? Or Aliens? Or 28 Days Later…?

Let’s get the obligatory plot set-up out of the way: recently divorced fund manager Seok Woo (yes, a fund manager is the hero – take that, the 99%!) reluctantly agrees to travel with his tween-age daughter, Soo-an, from Seoul to Busan (by, you guessed it, train), thereby granting her birthday wish to visit her mother. As they depart, news breaks of a viral outbreak, possibly linked to a local biotech research facility, and with the speed of a rabid dog going for your throat, it becomes apparent that an infected person – probably undead, certainly raving mad and with cannibalistic tendencies – is on board the train. As the train thunders on towards its destination, Seok Woo and Soo-an must fight for their lives, against the bloodthirsty hordes afflicted by the virus, and from fellow passengers who will do anything to survive.

Train to Busan, which has broken box office records across Asia, is the live action debut of Korean animator Yeon Sang-ho, who previously combined zombie tropes with social commentary in the animated feature Seoul Station (2016), which screened this year at the Edinburgh Film Festival and should get a UK release early next year. Given his background in animation, one might expect Yeon to make the transition to special effects-laden action scenes with ease, but, although the action scenes are as impressive in scale as any in, say, The Walking Dead or World War Z, it is the human element – and the uniformly excellent performances – that ultimately makes Train to Busan an instant horror classic, fit to be set alongside George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… as an example of a zombie film (yes, I know 28 Days Later… isn’t technically a zombie film – let it go) in which the characters make you care that the dead have come back to life with an appetite for the living.

For nearly two hours, the film takes turns shredding your nerves and mincing your emotions; imagine watching all six series of The Walking Dead in one 70-hour binge session, and you’ll have some idea of Train to Busan‘s intensity. At the end, I stumbled out of the cinema (and, unwisely, took a packed tube home) as though I had survived a zombie outbreak – and with the same scrunched-up, tear-streaked ‘cry face’ I had when I watched you-know-who disappear between a scrum of ravenous walkers in The Walking Dead.

Train to Busan is thundering into UK cinemas tomorrow. Reserve the edge of a seat, and don’t miss it.


David Hughes

Train to Busan is released in 10 London cinemas tomorrow. If there isn’t a cinema showing it near you, take the, um… bus?