Train to Busan

Director: Yeon Sang-ho.  Cast: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung.  Duration: 118 mins

South Korean Zombie thriller with subtitles.

It’s Summer box office but summers gone!

The summer is over and a cinema filler thriller zombie movie arrives.  Frightening Korean style apoplectic travellers get severely disturbed in this closed carriage apocalyptic journey taking you somewhere you booked for without the hazard warning lights and warnings of a perilous journey ahead.

For a zombie thriller the cast assembled create a family unit, bonded in adversity.  They are the source of humour, ridicule, fantasy, implausible courage and outrageous good fortune.  They inhabit their parts with enormous energy and carry the story along as it develops wildly on guess what – The Train to Busan.  A separated father in the middle of a messy divorce (Gong Yoo) has custody in his luxury apartment, managed by his quiet suffering mother, of his daughter (Kim Su-an) whose birthday is a day after we are introduced.  The father is a workaholic, fund manager in his late twenties say, and oversees many corporate placements.  

Story setting

The beginning of the film is set outside in a Korean industrial city outskirts with a de-contamination process going on with vechiles entering or leaving this industrial sprawl. The film shows from early on its intentions to shock and make you jump.  I certainly did from early on.  Back to the flux and flow of characters we encounter. A large Everyman character who I last saw in A Touch of Sin, (Ma Dong-Seok or maybe it was Jaing Wo, both similar) a monstousrously effective and highly charged underated Chinese film of again deploys a brilliant convincing though sometimes superman proportions facility for doing the impossible and guarding those around him, including his young pregnant wife (Ma Dong-seok). There is a homelsss man (Choi Gwi-hwa) who is the archetypal outsider who is a victim of circumstances denied entry to the ‘world’ the rest inhabit.

The star of the film is the quick jump action of zombies doing the following – turning on people unaffected.  Together they become in various multiple aged identities as reformed carnivores of humans. They act instantly and this is the thrill on a split seconds instruction at the interention of a sense.  A sight, sound, (no surround smell) that enters their collective paranormal psychotic self absorbing world.  More on that psychology later. We are confronted every which way, every, minute practically with a fear and jeopardy moment.  From the get go the selfish father, the fund manager, is talked into taking the train journey the next day to let Su-an see her mother and they arrive at a central Korean highly polished and effiecently laid out railway station only to find the train they wan being singularly alone and helpfully manned by an extravagantly efficient train driver whose duty of care is both memorable and funny.  He is brilliant in his attention to detail and hyper real in care of his charge of passengers.  It’s worth it just to see this and its development. Your allegiances are soon called onto sides.  For the action Korea has to go into what is a’virsl’ tailspin which as TV screens reveal early is happening through South Koreaalong the same lines as encountered here on the train.

So obviously enough a Train to Busan is summoned into becoming a character and a journey – with a few hiccups to start with – takes us into the beautiful sunny domain of South Korea on the K-Train.  The super train, TGV type modern train – it doesn’t have upper decks though – it would have made for a more complex snake of a train – its compartments, toilet facilities, intersecting doors, windows and seats all get abused in un Translink fashion.  The Train is the scene of much nastiness and the occasional stop is not enough to derail the fight between good and evil as the evil ramps up.. communications also play a part and all phones work.  The Samsung Galaxy exploding phone – South Korean cultural and apocalyptic failurecof industrial status is no where to be found and there are worse things as it so happens in the Trin to deal with. . Communications are fraught with news inbued from outside,  with downloaded apps coming to their rescue – the good gang trying to remain separate, together apart from the baddies, comes into action.

The Pictorial Experience

Although I could not decipher the end credits, I assume no rail stations, tracks or infrastructure were damaginged in the making of what in all ways seems a big Korean action thriller. This means it has been a tour-de-force in its ingenuity to weave together the extreme pyrotechnic, crowd spilling, stunt driven, dangerous collisions and violent fights that cups the entire film in its 118mins. duration.  There are respites but they are few and the technical delivery, some of the back of trains while actors are in full speed movement, close ups and internal claustrophobic shots inside the tiny box toilets for example are seemlessly thrust at us.  The crowd sciences also deploy an effective jerky jump motionto the zombies making it more surreal.  As it does not pretend to be anything other than a highly polished zombie thriller which it achieves without question, it does not follow some routes and does not rely on tons of gore.  Sliced arms hanging off guts, entrails pulled behind fleeing fiends is not the style – thankfully – it is more measured and finely aesthetically gruesome and energizing to the actors own performances.  It is a fairly conventional take on the zombie trope but I suggest it has underlying themes which are – though not sucessfully enough rendered or prounounced as to shape into the films advancing message –  highly provocative given the times we live in and the scientific growth of the worlds knowledge and the catastrophic consequences we seem to be unable to address.  The over population, the removal and derangement of the planets resources, the spiritual, intellectual, sexual values of the human race and the technological divorce of rationality from reason in the machine age.  The biological destruction of the natural world and animal kingdom while exploration of space and other life forms attract indulgent, misguided indulgence.  Mars is quite enough as small and unambiguous a territory for exploration as you could come up with given the even greater expanse out and beyond for which reasonable verification of other lives are on the blind side of our vision.  In other words it is a conceit to believe these ‘close encounters’ – the moon, mars and elements of our solar system are of significance in the ‘larger’ state.

The strange thing is …

Lesson one
Poor fund managers. They get pilloried and blamed for everything yet this one might resurrect himself. He works as a head decision maker and what he unfortunately does in the initial phases is createcfor himself a zombie bank (nation) as prime investment goes wrong. But will he Sell? Nsteadcof folowing the crowd he acts alone. A precept coming up for air as it is finally telling his world tanked, how does he react to what he has created going wrong. He takes the high road. The moral path or what is directed as the correct approach. His pilot is his daughter. The daughter his mother looks after as he fights a bitter divorce. The mother has awordcor two of wisdom in his apartment, like marriage guidance and restorative action.

Lesson two

For full observance of the Korean spell of zombie narrative I take to dispel their constructs of bare tangential visualization by referring to an all time symbolic reservoir – the images from the Eranos Society, Eranos Archive for Symbolic Research, by Olga Froebe- Kapteyn, an early follower of Jung. The mutli complexions of what become dying notes or transformative journals are held intact within these miraculous scriptures. Melancholy and harmony reside within. There is a further carriage of these individual art works within the work of the Henry Moore sculptures, of Mother and Child. He seen the transformation post war, of the modern paternalistic world reckoning with itself in a tangible ‘fatherless’ world. He foresaw the alteration coming through the violence of a maleness which had lost itself to war. A matriarchy had formed inside his world and no less a figure than his wife made this apparent to him. In this film and absurdly the notion of a zombie fate is evident and matriarchal. The earth goddess mother – one character sacrifices herself to make amends for her selfishness by putting herself in harms way. It will occur to you after, not before as it is well hidden – advanced in the theories of a Henry Moore, an artist of intellectual bearing which his female contemporaries saw the reverse side of – Barbara Hepworth and Elizabeth Frank advanced and perhaps domicile the male in their earth mother inhabiting of the goddess through their work – how else would they venerate the essence they held? Not that art historians tend to overcompensate, they just miss through being non-creatives these absurdities across several forms.  

Lesson three

Cinema is full of mixed content and fairly limited scoping out of the themes and this film is particularly unclear or unconcerned with the monumental, merely being statuesque in its zombie mortal world versus spirit world phenomenon. The uncontrolled dead amongst the stereotypes of modern life. Clash of the titans. At a stage of symbolism the uroboros consuming itself. The plucked consciousness of the male visiting the virginal states. The fervent male rationalist tethered to convention then the symbiosis of mutuality – still unreconciled in the extreme mental states of Isis and demigods of nations. Both symbolically thrust to the forefront in the paradoxical form of Clinton and Trump.

The biological determinants are frequently being revised scientifically without any societal impact. Thus the political dynamic is counterintuitive. As an art form it is fairly and conspicuously inherently divisive. It has neither feminine grasp nor male depiction in sight. Nor does it construe the extremities as biological reference points. Most male and female humans act naturally and conventionally holding a straightforward identity comprising of the both but pertaining to the one sex. The form they are in and larger measure undoubtedly within themselves. The perilous outcome is when the natural separates one part and looses its relation to the entirety. Ubiquitous feminism meets rampant facism. Idolised in Hitler. Conspicuously the contemporary is in a massive cathartic revolutionary state. I mean it has found through 20th century history a rejection of violence – we are led to believe there is a distinct decline in overall violence – that it mitigates on a paralysis of rejection of a God or human principle based universe – based on certain inherent underlying unseen truths – that are essentially here among us. The enormous changes brought about in the 20th century are playing out now. Films are a way of showing it. Zombie movies are inherently strong frankly absurd at times extremely funny in their projection of psychokinesis as to become entertainment fodder. Which one actually convinces or reaches core value status?  

Lesson four

Join a feminist movement.

Lesson five 

There will be fewer lessons you are capable of self thought.

Lesson six 

Their is a thing known to all mothers that the baby has to be told the meaning of Mine

Conclusion ####4

The genre usually is a take it or leave one as far as I’m concerned but there is quite a committed and less gory almost folkloric trait to this hugely involving story.  It has been a work of very clear high standards with a deeply convincing cast – even the little old middle class ladies taking the train get to examine their own consciousnesses in the interplay with hobos, destitutes and other society fabric.  It rushes and rushes with a physically demanding vigor and is never giving you sufficient time to sit back and ask ‘technical’ questions, how did that stunt come about, how on earth did they do that without destroying the infrastructure of South Korean Transport?  The characters inhabit familiar types and then the adaptitoions they are required to make are complex challenges removing from them and the audience set standards of objective thought.  It brings out many a fine performance even if it is just one scene.  The horror is only moderately restrained in the scope of movies of this kind and it therefore is setting out a larger sense situation be it the modern world or our singularity, individuality in the community of the sense of belong to a race which need to survive.  It Carey’s you whether you are into the morality scope or the freaky zombie fest and crowd pandemonium, it has a sense of humour though some are not convinced.  I was conciously wishing for the objectives f some to materialize and non pluses at the sufferance of others such was the disposal of any rational.  It was entertainment of a different kind and not overlong – with and ending etc. a tieing up of loose threads as much as possible.  Now if only they had the good sense to look closer at the Samsung Galaxy battery design and its capacity to short circuit.  This is a thriller beginning to end.

John Graham

2 November 2016


On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from Friday 4 November to Thursday 10 November 2016.

A fright filled zombie fest in the safety of your friendly local art house Cinema.