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Marie vs Horror #13: Train to Busan (2016)

Marie vs. Horror

Marie dips her toe in to yet another ‘stupid zombie’ movie – why does she keep doing this to herself?

In the first season of Marie vs Horror, one of my picks was the godfather of zombie movies – Night of the Living Dead. I said at the time that zombies are stupid, yet that film turned out to be the highlight of the season for me. I surprised myself.

And so now, to wrap up Marie vs Horror season two, my foreign language pick is South Korea’s Train to Busan – a more contemporary take on zombie attacks.

One of the really interesting things about Train to Busan is the cultural aspect of it being a South Korean film. Not only are we presented at the start with deferential train staff bowing politely to customers as they board, only to see them turn in to a ravaging horde of fast-moving flesh-eaters, but society’s ills are fully on display. There’s a clash of generations, of classes, of people who contribute to society or who only look out for themselves. Which side do you fall on? And if it’s the ‘wrong’ side, are you able to transcend that when the chips are down and become a person of worth to the people around you – whether that be family, friends, or fellow travellers. I mean, it wouldn’t be a proper horror movie if it didn’t reflect on society somehow.

The main character Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) is father to a young girl, his marriage falling apart, his work taking way too much of his time. Clearly, he has some moving to do if he is to redeem himself by the end of the run-time. We start our journey with him and meet other passengers along the way. The group of young baseball players seem to be a loud, lairy bunch who are about to make other passengers’ lives tricky on the journey, yet they turn out to be heroes, bucking the stereotype of sports guys. The arrogant businessman, a reflection of Seok-woo in later years, is bitter, self-serving, and cares about no-one but himself. Obviously it’s not going to end well for him. But it’s the blue-collar guy Sang-hwa (played by Dong-seok Ma) who is the true hero of the piece and my favourite character.

Director Sang-ho Yeon works the confined space of a train carriage really well, and the speedy movements of the zombies are the total opposite of the slow-moving versions I encountered in Night of the Living Dead. I loved the swarm effect and the way they stumbled over each other en masse, falling off bridges and through plate glass windows like water flowing downhill.

Admittedly one or two of the CG background shots weren’t perfect, but I can overlook that as the zombie horde was so well choreographed and created. It’s a shame that the script is occasionally a little heavy-handed in its exposition – a case of unnecessarily telling rather than showing which hammers home the point a little too persistently. But I really enjoyed Train to Busan, and I am glad to have it under my belt.

Don’t think that this means I like zombie films though. I don’t. But it goes to show that a good film, with a strong theme and characters actually worth caring about, is a good film – regardless of genre.

I think I would have gone all-in for the darker ending option, however.

This concludes Season 2 of Marie vs Horror! Until next Halloween…

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