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Film review: Train to Busan – Yeon Sang-ho’s inventive zombies-on-a-train thriller is just the ticket

In a world saturated with zombie movies, Yeon has created a juggernaut that’s broken records in South Korea while delivering plenty of gory violence and astute social commentary

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 August, 2016, 10:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 11:46am

4/5 stars

After a brace of gritty, socially charged animated films, director Yeon Sang-ho’s live-action debut proves a commercial juggernaut on its way to setting box office records in his native South Korea. The film’s deceptively simple “zombies on a train” premise delivers plenty of bloody violence and breathless action, punctuated along the way by social commentary, strong characters and a heavy dose of melodrama.

Without much explanation as to what is happening, a zombie outbreak sweeps through Seoul Station just as the morning express train to Busan is departing. One infected soul manages to get on board, and proceeds to spread the virus from carriage to carriage. With martial law declared and the country descending into anarchy, the surviving passengers have little choice but to strap in and head for the coast.

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It’s nigh on impossible to produce a truly original zombie movie in the current saturated climate, but Train to Busan features some inventive quirks. Not least, that the infected are turned instantaneously – except when the drama demands otherwise – ensuring the outbreak spreads at an alarming rate.

Beyond the gasps and gore, Yeon makes time to develop the relationship between Gong Yoo’s workaholic dad and estranged daughter Kim Soo-an, lumbering beefcake Ma Dong-seok and his heavily pregnant wife, and even the burgeoning romance between two high-schoolers. Korea’s archaic hierarchy also sees entitled businessmen screwing over the elderly and impoverished in order to survive.

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As with all the best horror films, Train to Busan succeeds as both grisly entertainment and as a scathing indictment of modern society, proving that even in the mainstream arena, Yeon has hardly lost his bite.

Train to Busan opens on August 25

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