Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
May 1st, 2017

Train to Busan

Train to Busan
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho
Written by Park Joo-suk
Starring Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Ma Dong-seok
118 mins

I was a bit concerned when I first saw Train, because it practically had "torture porn" stamped all over the box. Obviously first impressions aren't always right, so I had to sit down with this one and see just how it all came out.

Train takes us out to Europe, where a group of college athletes are looking to head to what I'm guessing is RUssia to compete in a wrestling competition. The contest itself goes reasonably well for them, but their ride home is about to have some serious problems when they miss the train thanks to an unexpected mixup out at the train station, featuring a group of wrestlers who'd been out partying all night. When a mysterious woman offers them passage on her own train, the wrestlers are only too happy to join her. But when the wrestlers find out they're on a train full of homicidal lunatics who want the wrestlers' organs for the black market--which is probably how they managed to have their own train in the first place--the end result will be, well, somewhat predictable.

Sadly, Train is pretty much exactly as advertised, a gigantic ball of torture porn that features lots of bloodied corpses in various stages of disassembly, from the "recently deceased" to the "full-blown med school final exam". Worse yet, it's also boring--the first third of the movie can't coax anything more than marginal creepiness out of the proceedings, and then when it actually does put up something that's not merely creepy, it's straight into the organ harvesting. Honestly, there are days when, to watch some horror film, you end up feeling wholly convinced that horror filmmakers have equally wholly forgotten how to really make horror film scary, with atmospheric driven tension, not with blood, guts and abject misery. And am I alone in getting positively sick and tired of the "naive belligerent American versus homicidal lunatic foreigners" concept? Look, I know that the whole "ugly Americans" thing has been kind of big of late, but are we seriously down to this? Are we seriously to the point where all the Americans are just bait to the tortures and organ theft of gleefully sociopathic Europeans?

I will give Train some due credit, though: you get into the last third of the movie and things start getting pretty nice, with lots of chase scenes and some of that fine good old fashioned horror stuff that made the old movies scary without resorting to constant organ removal and sociopathic jackasses tormenting victims before a kill. You get about fifty minutes in and it starts looking like a pretty nice slice of horror, all right. But then they pull the plug on the whole "good movie" concept in favor of more implausible torture porn followed by a nice sequence in which everyone so clearly hates Americans that an entire train car's worth will basically stand by and watch one get dragged off to get de-organed.

I was reasonably sure that the only way this would have a happy ending is if all the organ thieves were all put into a giant furnace feet-first, but even then I realized that that wouldn't be a happy ending so much as it would be a small slice of justice, but I wasn't going to get that either. Nope, the organ thieves got their comeuppance, but still, in the end, everyone loses. Including the audience who blew ninety minutes on this godawful slop. Perhaps most of all, the audience who blew ninety minutes on this godawful slop.

The ending is reasonably satisfying if for no other reason than the organ thieves get theirs, but it's really not all that satisfying. It's actually more sad than anything else.

The special features include your choice of English or Spanish subtitles, audio options, a behind the scenes featurette and a variety of trailers, including ones for the After Dark Horrorfest, Frontieres, Captivity, the Ghost House Underground Series and Fearnet.

All in all, frankly, you can do a whole lot better than Train, so save your time, save your money, for something that will pack more good scares and less blood and torment into the proceedings.

Sometimes, enclosed spaces make for the scariest moments, which is why so many horror films are set in hotel rooms, warehouses, or caves. This time, we're going by train, to check out the movie that represents this sixth-highest-grossing film of all time in South Korea, Train to Busan. Part zombie movie, part action film, and all, well...awesome.

Train to Busan follows Seok-woo, a fund manager who hasn't exactly been there for his family. Sufficiently so that he's a divorced fund manager, in fact. Now a single father of his daughter Su-an, Su-an has given her father one birthday wish: to visit Mom in Busan. Seok-woo would rather not, being as Busan's quite a haul and he's got work, but he changes his mind and thus the pair are off on the titular train. Things are obviously starting to go wrong, however, on the way to the train itself, and by the time the pair board, it's clear that the world is not what it was just the day before.

It's hard to pass up the idea of a zombie movie that's one part Dawn of the Dead and one part Snowpiercer, but that's kind of what we've got going here. A downright explosive combination if ever there was one, it remains to be seen if the Koreans can pull this one off. While I haven't had much exposure to Korean horror lately, I remember Korean horror being very much focused on ghosts as opposed to zombies.

I love how this starts out. This is perhaps one of the most innocuous openings ever, until it suddenly turns into something much worse. Then it goes quiet for a while, until it plain old explodes. This is a lovely bit of mood whiplash that contributes to the experience. It takes a bit longer than perhaps it should to build up to the actual horror, but to their credit, when it goes, it goes all at once like a string of firecrackers into a volcano. There are even some thrilling twists here; you won't believe what one old lady's going to do here, but man, it's worth seeing. It's like nothing I've seen anywhere else.

While I'm not exactly fond of the track star zombie--which these are abundantly; the bites turn from human to flesheater in seconds--I love how the camerawork almost makes this look like a Mindless Self Indulgence video. That combination of head-on jerky camerawork and what I'm guessing is a fisheye lense adds to the surreality of it. The moving train, going from infected site to infected site, only adds to the terror as the passengers are jumped--ultimately futilely, but jumped nonetheless--as the cars speed through.

The ending is a string of sorrow mixed in with Aloha Oe. You'll understand what that means when you see this movie. Which you should. Oh my sainted hat, you should.

Special features include trailers for "Train to Busan," "Operation Mekong," "The Tunnel," "Phantasm: Remastered," "The Wailing," as well a behind the scenes featurette, your choice of Korean or English audio tracks, and English subtitles.

All in all, "Train to Busan" is an exciting combination of zombie movie and occasional drama compressed to an ultra-small package. This is fun yet powerful stuff, and easily one of the better interpretations of zombie movie to come out in recent years.