Just when you thought we’d reached peak zombie, along comes South Korea’s Train to Busan to send an electrifying jolt through the genre. Breathless and brutal, the film is akin to someone smashing together 28 Days Later with Snowpiercer and then convincing Mad Max’s George Miller to help out on some of the action scenes.
Gong Yoo is Seok Woo, a divorced fund-manager master of the universe with a cool Seoul pad who dismisses ordinary people as “lemmings.” He’s not completely inhuman, though, as he’s a single dad with an adorable young daughter, Soo-an (Soo-ahn Kim).
But then his comfortable, well-dressed world comes crashing down when civilization begins to unravel while he’s taking Soo-an on a train trip to see her mother.
At first, no one knows why outbursts of vicious violence are erupting in the populace, but the viral threat is spreading across the country quickly, even sneaking aboard a bullet train full of unsuspecting passengers and turning most of them into the undead.
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There’s the baseball team (those bats are going to come in handy, boys), the doting, working-class husband and his pregnant wife, the conniving businessman, the elderly sisters, and, of course, Seok and Soo-an — all trapped in claustrophobic compartments on a speeding train full of ferocious, rampaging zombies.
Now, these aren’t your ordinary zombies. As imaginatively envisioned by anime director/writer Yeon Sang-ho in his live-action debut, they not only move fast enough to make Usain Bolt think twice about his career choice but can make flying leaps from top floors of buildings en masse, crashing to the ground in a field of broken limbs and still able to leap up and chase you down for dinner. It’s a spectacular effect.
The politics may be predictable — Woo is forced to confront his corporate soullessness and find out what’s really important — and having a child in danger may be cliche. But this kinetic, two-hour thrill ride, in which Sang-ho keeps turning the screws tighter and tighter, makes for suspenseful, bracing entertainment.
In Korean with English subtitles
Exclusive: CineOasis, Carrollton
Train to Busan
☆☆☆☆ 1/2 (out of five)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cast: Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-Seok
Rated: Unrated (bloody zombie violence)
Running time: 118 min.