‘Train To Busan’: Korean zombie film takes box office by storm but is it really worth it? (Movie Review)

Film: “Train To Busan” (Korean with English subtitles); Director: Yeon Sang-Ho Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi; Rating: **1/2

Zombie films have a chequered history in India. So far there have been very few worth mentioning. There was Krishan D.K & Raj Nidomoru’s “Go Goan Gone”. And there was another zombie film with Abhay Deol that Ekta Kapoor and Sid Jain were jointly producing. It got shelved.

I am not surprised. Watching grown-up men and women turn into flesh-eating monsters with their heads and limbs tilted at gravity-scoffing angles, is not quite the evening of entertainment that the average Indian middle-class family craves for. Unless you are tickled by the sight of scores of zombies prowling the train compartments like rioters during the 1984 riots.

What’s It About: A bunch of assorted characters from different walks of life board a speeding train which gets attacked by zombies. That’s it! The wafer-thin plot is amplified and blown up to unbearably suspenseful proportions by director Yeon Sang-Ho whose roots are in animation films.

He paints the characters in broad strokes of cartoon films. And fives the characters’ ludicrous lines, like the pregnant woman’s husband commenting on the cellphone’s ringtone at a time when they are a hair’s breadth away from death.

“The people onboard in the doomed train are more illustrative than individuals. The main characters are the workaholic man Seok-woo and his little daughter Soo-an who insists she wants to meet her divorced mother on her birthday. Hence the train ride to Busan. There is a pregnant woman Jung Yu-mi and her rough but kind-hearted husband, and so on.

What’s Hot: The scenes of the zombie attack and the characters trying to save themselves from the freak war on the train are plotted with a video-game deviousness and precision. The confined speeding space gives the characters limited manoeuvrability. The director shows enormous ingenuity in mapping the train’s space with heart-pounding precision.

While other zombie films use wide-open spaces for the chase-downs, the thrill of potential victims inventing escape routes in a train is throbbing and palpable. The zombie attacks are filmed with sporty verve, as though the director was activating a video game rather than a feature film where human characters are subjected to a stomach churning gore-fest.

The cinematographer and editor assume a heroic stature in the way they instil an imminence and high-anxiety into the outrageously overblown proceedings. Some of the chase sequences on a railway station where characters run for their lives, are shot with the palpable rawness of a high-school documentary shot during a boys’ night out that goes horribly wrong.

What’s Not: Eventually the swarms of zombies multiplying in double and triple digits and feasting on the characters begins to appear like an exercise in self-indulgent violence. The humane element is done with the punctuated prominence of a moral-science class.

The workaholic hero who has neglected his daughter and lost his wife is quite like Vinod Khanna in Ravi Chopra’s “The Burning Train”. This could well be the new-age version of “The Burning Train” with a much better topographical sense and a far more intense application of catastrophic drama.

The little girl who is in many ways the film’s hero admonishes her dad for thinking only of himself and his daughter at a time of crisis. “That’s why Mom left you,” she sobs. Ok then.

What To Do: It is easy to get carried away by the irresistible turbulence of a disaster film set on a hurling train with characters being chased to death by zombies. This film will hold your interest for the steep level of energy that the director invests into the conflict between the flesh-biting ghouls and the hapless passengers on the train who, I am sure, would have taken a flight if they only knew.

For those viewers who find gore to be a bore and scares in a zombie film to be scarce no matter how overdone, “Train To Busan” is just a repellent monster movie with high-octane action and manipulative contrived melodrama and a message on how important it is for humanity to be just plain humane during these times of crises.