Seok-Woo (Yoo Gong) is busy with work and he doesn’t really have time for his daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim). After he gets her the wrong birthday present, she wants to go home to her mother who is divorced from Seok-Woo and lives in Busan. Seok-Woo is less than happy about that idea, but finally gives in and boards the train from Seoul to Busan with Soo-an the next day. But even as they make their way to the train station, something seems to be off. It’s only after the train has left, though, and the passengers find themselves trapped with zombies, that they realize how off things really are.
Train to Busan pretty much blew me away when I saw it the first time. So, I wanted to make sure to re-watch it before seeing the (quasi) sequel, on the one hand, to make sure I haven’t been making the film better in my head than it was and, on the other hand, to see an excellent movie again. Fortunately, Train to Busan absolutely holds up – it is still a fantastic film.
Here’s the thing that Train to Busan gets so very right: it builds its characters so it’s easy to empathize with them. What’s more: it’s easy to like them. And since the human connections here are so very real and so well-done, everything else is heightened. Every decision that leads to characters surviving (or not) has that much more weight.
The action scenes are really good, making excellent use of the limited space within trains. They are made even better by your honest fear that one of those wonderful characters might get hurt. When it works, you can rejoice. And when it doesn’t work, there are tears. I may have cried even more than watching the film the first time, because it felt like I knew the characters better this time around.
At the same time I found the zombies to be less scary this time. Very effective as a threat to the characters, yes, but less likely to haunt me, personally, after the film, too. Maybe because they had lost some of the novelty. Maybe because I was focused much more on the human factor this time.
In any case, Train to Busan is as close to perfect as a film can possibly come – entertaining, emotional and still finds ways to make political statements. I still love it.