Tuesday, December 13, 2016

In short: Train to Busan (2016)

aka Busan Bound

Original title: 부산행

Fund manager Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) has chosen a rather unfortunate day to finally fulfil the wish of his little daughter Soo-an (Kim Soo-an) to get on the titular train to Busan with her and go for a visit with his divorced wife. Turns out today is the (fast, loud, with a tendency to tumble into hilarious heaps) zombie apocalypse. Quickly, many a carriage of the train is filled with the undead. It’s a fine day for one-note characters to learn valuable lessons and get bitten by the rampaging hordes.

If you’re an eternal optimist like me, you might go into Yeon Sang-ho’s zombies on a train movie Train to Busan hoping for something, anything new in zombie cinema; like me, you’ll probably be a bit disappointed to realize that the only even vaguely original plot element here is the fact that the cellphone networks will stay up for the whole of the movie, probably because we’re in the homeland of Samsung.

Now, as I’m saying often enough, originality isn’t all in genre cinema, and a film which has nothing new to say can still be a great time, as long as it is done well. Train to Busan isn’t that film, alas. Too much of its running time is filled with standard zombie apocalypse scenes done slightly worse than in your typical middling zombie film. The characters are boring and their character arcs obvious and without even a single surprise, yet still the film treats every generic self-sacrifice and death with overblown seriousness, violins on the soundtrack, slow motion, and if we’re really lucky with what feels like five minutes of a little girl crying.

I’m not against a horror film laying the melodrama on thick, but I’m also of the opinion that a film needs to put actual work into making me care for the characters it is going to kill off, instead of working on the assumption that it is enough to go through the gestures of your generic “tragic death” scene to make me cry. Unfortunately, just going through the motions without actually putting the work in is the whole of Train to Busan’s modus operandi when it comes to human feelings, with so many badly realized attempts at emotionally manipulating the audience, I at times wasn’t sure anymore if this is supposed to be a satire (it isn’t).

Add to that a running time that’s bloated up to nearly two hours where ninety minutes would suffice well enough, zombies that feel cartoonish instead of threatening, and action and suspense scenes which are mostly just okay, and you’re left with a whole lot of nothing.

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