Train to Busan (****) Next Stop, South Korea

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Train to Busan – 2016

Director Yeon Sang-ho
Screenplay Lee Dong-ha
Starring Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee, Ye Soo-jung, Park Myung-sin

My wife and my daughter have spent much of the past year immersing themselves in K-Drama and (for my daughter) K-Pop. In the same manner that once one is made aware of the existence of something, it seems like one sees it everywhere, I have begun to notice the world buzzing about South Korea’s contributions to the entertainment zeitgeist.

One of the names that has consistently risen to the top has been Train to Busan, a zombie flick that has infected on the train and even more off. While it does nothing to reinvent the genre – and isn’t even the best of the last year – it’s still pretty good.

One of the things going for it is the cast. Yoo and Dong-seok have a presence that is immediately recognizable. Dong-seok especially adds manliness (to all of the situations they face) and vulnerability (to his wife) in each scene.Yu-mi rises above the rest as Dong-seok’s pregnant wife. No sympathy points or feigned tears. She really pushes through.

Two performers I really enjoyed were two little old lady sisters, played by Soo-Jung and Myung-sin. Their trajectory affects the film in a subtle, but important way. It may be the performances, but just as likely the direction that makes it so effective.

One thing that brings pause, however, is the inordinate number of characters (especially teenage males) that are crying in an extremely exaggerated manner. It’s a little disconcerting, and I wonder if it is a cultural thing. I saw Chan Ho Park do it quite loudly and openly while being taken out of a minor league baseball game many years ago. The important thing is that Dong-seok didn’t pull any of that nonsense.

Sang-ho has a true artist’s touch for many scenes. His perspective allows him to borrow ideas from other films and make it seem unique. This is especially noticeable in two scenes involving the engine car in the last act.

Train to Busan is a good introduction to South Korean cinema, for those who haven’t seen Snowpiercer. To be sure, though, Snowpiercer was really a movie of the world. I don’t know much about South Korean films, but if they are this good, I will be watching more.

(**** out of *****)

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