Train to Busan, the South Korean zombie thriller that has taken the region by storm, is now the highest-grossing Asian film in Singapore in 2016! Here’s how much the film has made so far:
With its success, there is little doubt that Train to Busan will be the benchmark for Asian zombie films for years to come, but what is it exactly that makes the film so damn good? Today, we take a look at what makes Train of Busan stand out from the dime-a-dozen affair of zombie flicks!
1) It has all the makings of a good zombie movie
In Train to Busan, the claustrophobic interiors are effectively utilised to create a sense of deep, psychological unease. Often, the effects are so immersive, that when the action shifts to wider spaces of train yards or stations, viewers become almost disoriented like the poor passengers themselves.
The splatter of blood, brains and mayhem as hordes of zombies devour unfortunate passengers trapped on-board the bullet train further builds upon a sustained sense of danger and suspense, and makes for some pretty intense viewing.
Stragglers and survivors that we care about
These folks don’t necessarily have to be likable or even know each other very well, but as a group, they need to have a certain chemistry with the apocalyptic environment.
In short, for good or bad, they need to be appealing enough for viewers to root for and to care about what happens to them, even if they’re of the “douchebag” variety.
In Train to Busan, we have a ruthless fund manager and his little daughter, a lovable brute and his pregnant wife, teen lovebirds, and a corporate big gun (some wish they could run over) who all emerge as (more or less) principal survivors for viewers to root for…
This is pretty self-explanatory. No one goes to watch a zombie movie expecting a bed of roses.
Plus, when you’re dealing with the undead who are compelled to bite your head off and tear you apart, you’re going to get some gore, and obviously, some blood, and Train of Busan delivers plenty of that.
2) It’s not just a zombie flick
Fun fact: Train to Busan isn’t even categorised under “horror”. In fact, the film falls under action, suspense and thriller, so it’s no surprise that there aren’t scenes of humans (or zombies) being ripped apart from limb-to-limb.
More importantly, the film also serves as a critique on the South Korean government in serving the interests of its citizens, and a potent allegory of economic disparity and conflict in the country.
Obviously, as with any zombie flicks, it is a “survival of the fittest” story – except that “fittest” here is mostly defined by wealth and status. This is exemplified by the chief protagonist’s tendency to act on his elitist, self-preserving instincts, telling his daughter off for giving her seat to the elderly, and shutting the door on escaping passengers, including a pregnant lady.
3) It hits close to home
Like it or not, we live in an age where “relatability” is gold, especially when it comes to media productions. So naturally, Train to Busan’s train setting could constitute a large part of the film’s appeal for commuters who take the train to work every day.
In Singapore, the average daily MRT ridership was at 2.76 million in Singapore in 2015. In Hong Kong, about 12.6 million journeys are made every day on a public transport system that includes railways, trams and buses. The fact that the film broke records in both markets is a likely indication that relatability sells.
Further on the subject of relatability, there were hardly any memorable Asian zombie films until Train to Busan and the film’s depiction of a dog-eat-dog world in a capitalist society is something that all city-dwellers can relate to.
4) Gong Yoo as Seok-woo
Okay, this one is mostly for the ladies (and some men). First things first, Gong Yoo, who has also played Choi Han Kyul in The First Shop of Coffee Prince is as engaging as he is handsome.
Here, his performance as a witty fund manager who is forced to choose between survival (at the expense of others) and his own humanity is almost understated, yet painfully real. For many viewers, Gong’s performance might even have carried the film.
At the core of it, there is some part of Seok-woo in all of us, a part that is self-obsessed and disengaged – so much so that he fails to notice the brewing zombie apocalypse at its initial stages – and of which we can all relate to.
Ultimately, Train to Busan tells a tale of human drama that is intertwined with harsh, modern realities, where zombies merely provide the backdrop. Maybe that’s what makes it so compelling.