The hyperactive, refreshing journey that Asian cinema can sometimes take you on is exemplified by Train to Busan, from South Korea, a pulsating, edge-of-your-seat thrill-ride from beginning to end. Wasting no time, Yeon Sang-ho sets the scene, a swift, affecting introduction to some fine characters, before letting rip with a form of zombie apocalypse we’ve not quite seen before. And do we need a fresh take on the zombie genre. All hell breaks loose on the train when a stray woman, clearly bit, gets the blood ball rolling. One bite leads to another, as it goes, and the transformation and chaos is almost instant. The infected twist and creek with the longing for flesh, a horrifying, riveting event for the eyes, you’re stunned by what you witness, all the while somewhere in you there’s a gratitude for something cinematically original.
Cities are overrun, people are part-eaten in an instant, and in turn become ravenous, characters we soon grow to admire and care for often come within a inch of their lives. The frenetic pace is so exhilarating you barely have time to stop for breath. The enclosure of a passenger train has rarely been so claustrophobic, with hardly any place to climb or hide, let alone run. What Train to Busan also achieves, that many horrors or thrillers fail on or neglect, is the pure, human story-thread. Terrific characterization and key scenes of engaging dialogue builds relationships and genuine rapport between people now living in immediate fear. Perhaps the sweetest moment is one you’ll almost miss, as the daughter of the main character assures her own safety by merely singing, a feat she was so afraid to do at the beginning of the movie.
It’s touching sequences and fleeting moments such as these that make Train to Busan much more than a terror flick. Emotions blend with compassionate, kinetic story-telling, and a narrative that zooms by like a hurricane. Even the blistering scenes of special effects, which admittedly might not appear to be up to scratch at times, nonetheless make its mark in accommodating elements of entertainment and suspense – including a couple of ludicrously brilliant set-pieces you have to see to believe. Teamed with a terrific sound design, and ample examples of magnetic, but never showy, cinematography (both grand in scope and keeping right in the nooks of the action), the film offers much to find a seat at all four corners of your brain. Given the tough-to-resist against-the-odds factor of the humans fighting for survival, it takes up a good deal of space in your heart too.