Monday, 9 March 2020

Movie review: Train to Busan, dir Sang-ho Yeon (2016)

It might be difficult for readers of this blog to credit, but this is the first full zombie movie I have ever watched. This particular type of movie never appealed to me but now, with Netflix, I can sample any old thing without making much of an investment of time. If I don’t like a movie after five minutes’ viewing, I can just stop it and watch something else instead. In the present case I had seen a tweet with a comment about ‘Train to Busan’ and so I had some form of recommendation. Using a pad of paper I keep next to my keyboard I often write down the titles of movies or TV shows I have seen spoken of.

So readers of this post can know that I have little to which to compare this movie, and cannot say how good it is in relation to other exponents of the genre. Having said that, this movie was not scary and it efficiently uses such things as dialogue and character to make meaning. Overall it was enjoyable.

The presence in the movie of zombies – who are intent on biting anyone they see who is, themselves, not a zombie – adds drama to the product. Small snippets of dialogue that in another movie might just serve to fill in space between more significant events serve, in this movie, to convey large quantities of meaning because the risk of death is ever-present. So minor character flaws or minuscule moments of emotional congress involving two people are magnified out of proportion.

The primary point of focus in the movie is the relationship between a father named Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) and his daughter Soo-an (Su-an Kim), who is aged about eight or nine. Seok-woo is a fund manager and has separated from his wife, the mother of the child, and the child lives with him in Seoul in his apartment with his own mother and himself. When the movie opens it’s Soo-an’s birthday the next day and she wants to go to Busan to see her mother.

The two set out in Seok-woo’s car when it is very early in the morning and still dark, to drive to the train station, where they board a carriage and sit down with other passengers. But a young woman who ends up staggering onto the train at the last moment turns into a zombie and begins attacking the passengers who, once they have been bitten, quickly turn into zombies themselves.

The zombies are quite fun and there’s one scene where, in a train station, Seok-woo jams a book in the open mouth of one of the monsters as it grapples with him in the floor. I thought this variation on self-defence – and there is a lot of punching and throwing that happens in the course of the movie as the uninfected passengers battle it out with the ravening zombies – was especially charming, though it’s not altogether flattering, as an avid reader myself, to see a book reduced to such a prosaic use.

With all of the death and drama odd links form, such as the one between Seok-woo and Sang-hwa (Dong-seok Ma), a burly, working-class man whose wife, Seong-kyeong (Yu-mi Jung) is heavily pregnant. Sang-hwa dislikes Seok-woo at first and says he thinks he is a ravening zombie in real life because of what he does – buy and sell shares in public companies – but the two are forced to reassess their relationship due to the demands of the situations they find themselves in. The social commentary is palpable in this genre flic, and moral points are hammered home by the filmmakers with enthusiasm although it’s not at all clear from the drama if the filmmakers actually understand what a fund manager does; they seem to think they are like entrepreneurs who run companies.

In a zombie movie, a hammer can save your life. In my world, I might use one to hang a painting on the wall or to put together a piece of furniture bought at Ikea. In a zombie movie, small tasks seem like distant memories, and endemic violence – common also to other types of genre movie such as crime thrillers or spy thrillers – is relaxing for the viewer as it helps you to experience mundane things in the way that they should be experienced: as something to value rather than a chore. Hence, paradoxically, zombie movies remind us of our humanity. They tell us why we are alive.

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