Between slick camera work, a relentless pace and overwhelming tension, Train To Busan is one of the best zombie films in quite some time. The claustrophobic setting of the train cars its predominantly shot in lend itself to a unique setting as the apocalypse grips Korea and a handful of survivors cling to what little hope remains. The story is well executed and the non-stop action set pieces grow as the film continues. The latter half does devolve into pure spectacle ,throwing the tight knit character work to the wayside in favour of a Hollywood-esque ending. The Korean language with English subtitles may put some people off which is a shame because Train To Busan is truly a great zombie film.
At the heart of this chaotic apocalypse is Seok-Woo (Yoo Gong) a man obsessed with his work with little time for his daughter Soo-an (Su-an Kim). Promising his daughter he’ll get her to Busan to see her Mother, the two set out at the very beginning of the apocalypse as Korea begins to crumble around them. At first glance it seems like the train might be a safe haven but can they really be sure no one on the train is already infected? What follows from here is a tense and near flawless hour of non stop action shot predominantly in a single train. As the film opens up a little it does lose some of the choked claustrophobia that grips this film but it remains tense throughout.
Train To Busan boasts a great array of camera angles and framing too. Whether it be a long pan shot of an empty station or a shaky, handheld camera used to accentuate the sporadic nature of the zombies up close, Director Sang-ho Yeon isn’t afraid to show off his artistic vision with some great cinematography. All of this is further enhanced by an uneasy, discordant, string-heavy score. With vast periods of this film shot with no music and just sound effects or dialogue, when the action does pick up, so too does the music and it really sends the tension off the scales. Its cleverly done and shows a real understanding for how to make the most of building tension that’s a trademark of Korean films in general.
All of this great work would of course be for nothing if the characters were lacklustre or the script lacking. Despite a questionably formulaic final act and ending on an unresolved note, Train To Busan delivers in almost every sense. Seok-Woo is a really well written character, transforming from a selfish businessman to a selfless, brave fighter as the film progresses. It is a little cliched but with the blistering pace the film sets for itself, its forgivable and barely noticeable. The rest of the characters have their own unique sub-plots which are all resolved too which is a nice touch and with the exception of one major plot point that leaves the film hanging, the script is excellent with barely any plot holes to speak of.
Overall though, Train To Busan is quickly simply a very good thriller. Not only is the action relentless, gripping and well shot, the characters are all memorable and have satisfying arcs. Despite not really ending the main conflict and a tendency to devolve into Hollywood spectacle toward the end of the film, Train To Busan is smartly written and boasts some excellent cinematography. The script tries to hit the peaks in the zombie genre with some incredible tense scenes and great writing. Its a shame that people may see the language as a barrier and avoid this one because Train To Busan should be seen as a benchmark for how to make a great zombie film.