Finally making its debut stateside courtesy of Well Go USA is the much lauded South Korean zombie epic, Train to Busan. Along with The Wailing, Train to Busan was the hottest South Korean export in horror of 2016. Following a group of civilians traveling on a train through South Korea during a vicious zombie outbreak, Train to Busan is a summer blockbuster at its core with some classic horror elements combined with its action sequences to create an experience that transcends most recent zombie film efforts. Plus movies from South Korea that take place on or around trains have yet to let me down, I’m looking at you Snowpiercer and The Good, The Bad, The Weird!
The Movie: 4/5
Train to Busan was a film I had some rather high hopes for being a fan of horror and South Korean cinema in general. While I’m not the biggest fans of zombie movies I was still excited to check this one out with all the positive buzz surrounding it. Train to Busan easily delivers on the wild train ride from hell scenario it puts forth while still taking its time to breathe and have emotions missing from other summer blockbusters. While the trailer could lead one to believe this could be a schlock filled disaster, the whole film is extremely well made and exceeded my expectations.
Before we get into the chaos we are introduced to Seok-woo and his estranged daughter Su-an, Seok-woo is an all work and no play father and his young daughter Su-an just wants to get back to her mother in Busan. Train to Busan wants to be more than just a bloody action adventure film, striving to give us some genuine character development and emotion as the film moves along at a breakneck pace. While the train is filled with passengers, a few stand out supporting characters join the mix and the film anchors around them. These are effective and for the most part enjoyable characters as well, you’ll quickly find yourself rooting for the survivors and shouting at the screen at the films more human villains.
While the trip to Busan starts off peaceful and normal enough for everyone involved, the film wastes little time getting to the meat of the proceedings; zombie chaos on a speeding bullet train. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know Train to Busan certainly has some influence from the vastly inferior World War Z. Hordes of vicious infected that can move like crossfitters will fill the screen, but unlike World War Z, the visual effects of Train to Busan are actually quite impressive. There is definitely quite a bit of CGI involved, it looks effective and it’s all used to enhance practical effects and imagery to some wonderful results. Limp bodies falling from the sky and abnormally contorting as they re-animate themselves have never looked better and the transitions between CGI and practical effects are masterful for this kind of genre filmmaking.
Train to Busan also delivers some genuinely terrifying zombies. While purists may shun their speed these zombies present a serious threat, even solo. Their white eyes and more rabid look keep them scary even though the majority of the film takes place during daylight with creative use of the darkness presented by tunnels in the later parts of the film. Train to Busan combines it’s scares with some full blooded action and fight sequences on the train as there is nary a gun fired in the whole, you can expect lots of great hand to hand work. All shot with a raw feeling choreography and great cinematography that utilizes dolly and glidecam to create long one take fight sequences.
The idea of zombies wreaking havoc on a train is one that could easily feel like a soulless mess of a movie. Train to Busan is a blockbuster of a movie but one that constantly rises above what a typical film like this could be. With great performances, fun characters, and genuine craft throughout its action sequences and visuals, Train to Busan is definite must watch film for horror fans and easily one of my favorites of 2016.
The Blu-ray: 3/5
Train to Busan is being released by Well Go USA, who have pretty much become the go to if not the only option for the majority of Asian films looking for distribution in US markets. They’ve treated Train to Busan with their standard Blu-ray release, complete with a sleek looking slipcover with some embossed lettering in the initial pressing. The picture quality here is great with crisp detail and wonderful color. Well Go USA has also provided a slew of audio options, including Korean DTS-X and both Korean and English in 5.1 Dolby Master Audio. Overall Train to Busan sounds stellar with consistent volume levels throughout for the dialogue and sound effects plus a wonderfully unique score to back it all up.
Special Features wise Well Go USA hasn’t included much here, which is not too surprising with their track record. For Train to Busan we get about 15 minutes of behind the scenes footage from the set and 5 minutes of footage from them wrapping the film, plus some trailers for other Well Go USA releases. It’s a light release and really you’ll be picking this one up for movie alone which is just fine.
Video – 1080p High Definition in 16:9
Audio – Korean DTS-X, Korean 5.1, Korean Stereo, English 5.1, English Stereo
Subtitles – English
The Recommendation: Must Own
While the Blu-ray release here of Train to Busan is light on features, the picture quality and audio still packs a solid punch. More importantly though, the film itself is a stellar exercise in how to do big budget action filmmaking. Train to Busan is also required viewing for zombie and horror film fans, its a thrill ride of a movie that blends its action set pieces with its straight horror movie moments with the grace of South Korea’s best cinema. If you absolutely must do a zombie movie that takes place on a train, you can’t be much more perfect than Train to Busan.