Train to Busan: Flop or Top?


It’s been nearly a century since zombie movies have been around, and therefore nearly a century since an original zombie movie was released. They seem to all follow the same basic plot: Following a very sudden zombie outbreak, a person or group of people gets trapped in a building and have to escape while zombies try to eat them. Of course, some media shakes up the typical plot. Maybe instead of being stuck somewhere, the group has to travel to a certain place. Instead of trying to escape, they have to find a cure. Or instead of being stuck in a building, they’re stuck on a train. 

In an industry with an abundance of every type of movie, how does one make a name for itself? 

Train to Busan attempted to answer this question with its release on July 20th, 2016. A South Korean film with an $8.5 million budget, it follows the story of a father as he finds himself trapped during a zombie outbreak on a high-speed train with his young daughter. 

The Storyline

Seo Seok-woo is a fund manager for a biotech plant and is an unfortunately busy and somewhat absent father. His daughter Su-an only wants one thing for her upcoming birthday: to see her mother, who lives separated from Seok-woo in Busan. If you don’t know, Busan is one of South Korea’s most populated cities, right after Seoul which is where Seok-woo resides. Feeling guilty for missing her school recital, he agrees to call out from work to take a train to Busan with her. Shortly after, reports of violent outbursts and a quickly-rising body count spread over the globe started to be covered on all news outlets. Seok-woo and the new friends he’s found on the train find themselves not only need to fight against zombies but also the uninfected passengers on the train. 

The Writing 

When it comes to creativity in terms of plot, Train to Busan has a healthy amount of it though not an abundance. Though it clearly takes steps to distinguish the most important plot points from other apocalyptic movies, there’s not much room for originality. Additionally, most of its characters fall into well-known tropes, such as ‘business dad who doesn’t have time for kids’. However, it’s also interesting to see how these character types react to a situation such as a zombie apocalypse.

The dialogue between the characters feels realistic, which is extremely important for a film. No matter how original the plot maybe, if the scenes are all awkward and senseless then the effect is ruined. Each interaction is clearly written to highlight the palpable tension, and it’s easy to follow how stress affects each character’s decisions. Although, this situation does add a level of moral deliberation to the movie as well. There are multiple points in the plot where a character takes an action that is meant to evoke anger in the viewer but it also forces the question: Is this character truly wrong in doing so, or does it just feel that way because the narrative is from a certain perspective? 

The Acting 

It’s near undeniable that the casting for this movie could not have been more perfect. The viewer is forced to sympathize with every character on screen purely from the amount of life breathed into each one. Even the one-off characters that are in a scene for less than five minutes stick with you the entire film. A perfect example of this is the first human zombie that appears on screen: A young woman, whom nothing is known about and who is technically at fault for dozens of deaths, still calls for such pity as she is very clear in agony and not in control of her own actions. Perhaps it’s because most of them are seen first as being uninfected, but the zombies in this movie feel much more like ill humans than they do monsters. 

We circle back to the original question: In an industry with an abundance of every type of movie, how does one make a name for itself? 

The answer lies with the actors. After all, a good script is nothing without the right actors behind it, but good actors can easily make even the worst scripts sound Oscar-worthy.  And there is no doubt that these are the right actors.

There is not one moment in this entire movie that doesn’t demand every ounce of attention from the people watching it, and it is entirely due to the skill of the cast. From Kim Su-an playing Su-an to Ju-Shil Lee playing Seok-woo’s mother, every person cast in this film seems to understand their role and their purpose perfectly. 

Kim Su-an specifically brings this movie to a whole new level. Only ten years old when the film was released, her character adds a layer of vulnerability as one of few who cannot protect herself. However, it’s the innocence that she portrays that makes it hit even harder when things take a turn for the worse.

My Personal Opinion 

Though you may go into this movie expecting another mediocre horror film using cheap tricks for scares, you will come out of it ugly crying and it will not leave your mind for weeks. Somehow, the plot is so full of emotion that the horror takes a backseat, despite it being a gore and violence-filled movie. Even for those who are typically not fans of such stories, I can guarantee that if you watch Train to Busan it will find a place in your Top 5 movies of all time, at least. 

A solid script backed up by the ideal cast, Train to Busan manages to make itself noteworthy even while drowning in similar movies. What sets it apart from the others is the reaction that it elicits from anyone who chooses to watch it. I wholeheartedly recommend this movie.