Train to Busan is a harrowing zombie horror-thriller that follows a group of terrified passengers fighting their way through a countrywide viral outbreak while trapped on a suspicion-filled, blood-drenched bullet train ride to Busan, a southern resort city that has managed to hold off the zombie hordes… or so everyone hopes. Starring Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok, and Kim Eui-sung.
Like many, I'm burned out on the zombie sub-genre. Danny Boyle's '28 Days Later' gave it a fresh new start, but the manipulative serial soap opera 'The Walking Dead' beat the dead horse so badly that it wasn't getting up again … or so I thought. Just when I was ready to abandon zombies altogether, here come the South Koreans with a new take that makes the undead cool again.
'Train to Busan' takes an awesome approach. Like the sequel '28 Weeks Later,' it demonstrates the terrifying scenario of a quickly-spreading zombie outbreak. We initially follow it through the eyes of a selfish businessman and his daughter. He and his wife have been separated. His wife now lives in Busan while he and his daughter live in Seoul. For his daughter's birthday, he plans to take her on the first train of the day to Busan, drop her off to spend time with her mom, then return to Seoul for his ever-so-important work.
Just as the train is about to leave the station, there's a commotion outside. It sounds like protesting and rioting, but with the train about to depart, no one seems too worried about it. Before the doors close, a young woman races aboard as fast as she can and stumbles into the bathroom. As the train rolls away, an attendant offers to help the infected girl that promptly bites her, starting a chain reaction of biting that results in entire passenger cars quickly becoming chock full of zombies. Like fellow Korean film 'Snowpiercer,' there's a world of danger outside the speeding train, but there's also no safety within the train itself.
As the train rolls along, we're introduced to an ensemble of characters: an entire high school baseball team, said high school team's lone cheerleader, two elderly sisters getting out of the city together, a stubborn man and his pregnant wife, a greedy businessman who only looks out for himself, a quiet filthy man who appears to live on the streets, and a few other train attendants. As the excitement begins, a great amount of these characters are bitten and turned. No one is safe as this evil army grows in numbers within the careening bullet train.
The concept behind 'Train to Busan' is cool, but it's not enough to separate it from all of the other zombie movies. For that, it relies on the merits of its script, characters, actors and overall tone.
The zombies of 'Busan' are like those of '28 Days Later' and 'World War Z.' They're fast and hoard-like. They'll topple over one another like a nasty fleshy mass if that's what it takes to get a meal. Their threat is real and everpresent. Having said that, 'Busan' retains a fun entertainment value the entire time. Featuring one of the stars of 'The Good, The Bad and The Weird,' it's easy to make comparisons between the two in terms of the type of fun comedy that lies between its terrifying moments.
The actors within the film (especially the young daughter) deliver excellent performances; however, the extras (aka, background actors) really steal the show. They put absolutely everything they have into their zombie roles. By tossing their bodies around with no regard to the pain that they'll suffer as a consequence, some sacrifice their wellbeing and safety for the sake of awesome shots. The zombies actors crash into things, fall off of things and dive around just to create unforgettable shots.
Aside from the surprisingly fun romance 'Warm Bodies,' most of the genre's entries rely on R-rated gore for scares, but 'Train to Busan' does much better than that. 'Busan' doesn't have an MPAA rating, but if it did, it would likely be PG-13 – but that doesn't make it any lesser of a genre film. Au contraire, 'Train to Busan' is one of the great zombie films out there.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go USA has delivered 'Train to Busan' on a BD-50 disc is a thick blue Vortex keepcase. It comes with a stylized embossed and reflective slip cover. Following an unskippable FBI warning, the disc features skippable trailers for 'Operation Mekong,' 'The Tunnel,' 'Phantasm' and 'The Wailing.'
'Train to Busan' carries a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It features the flawless clarity that comes with a digital shoot, but it also carries the flatness that digital cinema can fall victim to. Although it could benefit from a more cinematic look, that's fortunately the only downside to it.
Unlike most zombie movies, not a single bit of the film is set during the night. As such, it's a bright film with plenty of lighting and colorization. Much more color is present than you'd find in most horror films. The palette consists mostly of primaries. The contrast is consistent throughout. The only time that we get deeper black levels is when the train passes through long mountain tunnels. At those times, there's still a decent amount of light present in order for us to still see the characters in the should-be pitch blackness. This turns the blacks into grays, but that's certainly a directorial decision for the sake of being able to see the on-screen action.
The sharpness allows for textures and details to appear on-screen at all times. There's an abundance of individually visible hairs, pores and other fine features. Clothes are highly textured. This makes the world so real that it's a creepy blend with the surreal world within the film.
Not an ounce of noise, bands aor aliasing appears.
The only English dubs that I can handle come with animated film or TV series. For this review, I watched 'Train to Busan' with the Korean DTS:X audio track. The base 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is very good, but could have used a little more oomph.
As expected, the sequences of terror and loud attacks make for the most engaging and active parts of the mix. Snorting, grunting and chomping zombies will fill the space uniquely. Each channel has series of individual sounds that envelope you within the scenario. During attacks, voices are blended into the effects mix to make it even more haunting.
Being set on a moving train, even the downtime comes with great dynamic environmental effects. The rickety rocking sounds of the bustling vehicle make it so there's almost always something to listen to, even if it's subtle. The scoring and music are spread throughout the channels evenly and dynamically. They fill the air and add to the surrounding tension.
'Train to Busan' makes the zombie genre great again. You might think that its limiting concept - zombies on a train - would fizzle away quickly, but with a solid screenplay and great actors, it never wavers. Instead, it reinvigorates by desire to see more zombie movies, which hasn't been the case since 'The Walking Dead' started functioning on auto-pilot. The video and audio qualities are great, but the disc is lacking in the special features area - but, even then, 'Train to Busan' is still a wild ride that's worth catching.