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Belittling Horror Excessively: Train To Busan03:15 PM -- Sat October 28, 2017

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Train To Busan (2016)
Not Rated
IMDB Says:
“While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.”
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
Metacritic Rating: 72/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% critics, 88% audience
Solee: 5/5
Mikey: 5/5
We watched this on Netflix.

Solee: Yesterday, our guest reviewer, Colin, recommended that we watch Train to Busan. It was already on our list of movies to see, right? How did it get on that list? More importantly, do we still get to blame Colin if we didn’t like it?

Mikey: I think we can always blame Colin for our ills. But the movie was on the list because of one of the many “Best N Horror Movies on Service-Name” articles I looked at during the month. People sure seem to like it. It’s Zombies On A Train. Also, it ended up on our list in part because of that - our first zombie movie of the month (if you don’t count one short segment in Patient Seven).

Solee: It also adds to our list of horror films from other countries, since it’s from South Korea. We watched it in Korean with English subtitles, which is always fun. I feel like I pay closer attention when I can’t pretend I’m listening while I play on my iPhone. The movie starts with the basic roving camera showing us the variety of people on the train (and cluing us in on who is going to be important to the story).

Mikey: Which brings me to my overall take: while this is very clearly a zombie movie, what it is more than that is a Disaster Movie. It’s all the tropes of a disaster movie, where you get to know the assorted people who are going to be trapped in the disaster (too many for a normal cast, but they disappear fast), and then our heroes and villains who make their way through. It was like all those 70’s disaster films.

Solee: Yep. They made a point of having characters from several different walks of life: the high school baseball team and their one cheerleader, the married couple expecting a child, the spinster sisters, the spineless railroad employee, the homeless man who knows more than he should, and the rich jerk. That’s on top of the main characters, a workaholic father and his emotionally neglected young daughter.

Mikey: Yeah, there’s a very big element of emotional manipulation (which I suppose is what all movies are, end to end, but nevermind that), where they have these over-the-top villain characters, and over-the-top good guys who will save anyone, and you can’t help but cheer and jeer the appropriate people as it goes along. Although I think one place they let me down was the end of the rich jerk. He was the absolute supervillain of this movie, and I just didn’t feel like he got the big horrible end he needed.

Solee: We didn’t even get to see him get bit! He’s one of those characters that you really want to see get their comeuppance on screen. He got it, we just didn’t get the release of seeing it happen. Instead, they humanized him by showing him as a scared little boy, which is probably the source of all his terrible behavior in the first place. This movie really tried to make each character feel real and relatable.

Mikey: It was just a fun experience rooting for the good and booing the evil. Another interesting thing going on in this movie was their take on zombies. Putting them on a train posed an interesting challenge - there’s not really any room to maneuver, or directions to go in. Just back and forth. So to make that work, they made the zombies rely almost entirely on sight (with some hearing, but not great hearing). They were able to pull a lot of tricks to get past them as a result. Oh, and P.S. FAST ZOMBIES.

Solee: For sure. That was one of the scarier things for me. I spend a lot of time mocking people in zombie movies for being unable to get away from the slow, lumbering corpses. I had total sympathy for people trying to get away from these zombies. They even sped up the film to make them seem faster and jerky in that way that Korean and Japanese films so often do with their supernatural monsters. It’s very effective on me. Gives me the creepy-crawlies! I thought it was interesting that they established that the zombies could not work doors and they had very little object permanence. Once people were out of sight, they were safe.

Mikey: And yet, it was always very dangerous! The zombies also did a little of the World War Z pile-up trick and similar things, but what I liked was that they would quickly cut away from these CGI zombie pile-ups, they were just a little hint of “whoa, that’s a flood of zombies”, instead of shoving it in your face as a spectacle. Although when they all grabbed on the train at the end, that was a little goofy. Made me concerned for the actors involved. Also made me think of the horrible fire ant rafts in the Houston floods.

Solee: That was definitely an obstacle I didn’t expect them to have to deal with. There was a moment, as the passengers were safe in a train car watching absolute carnage on the platform outside, when I realized that there’s a very specific horror in watching mass violence from a safe place. It’s the same trauma that people experience watching tragedy on the news (in my experience: 9/11, Columbine, various riots). We forget how much it affects us, as humans who tend to like to be proactive and solution-oriented, to see things we can’t do anything about. That’s not something that comes up in horror films often, as having the characters actually experience the trauma first-hand is more exciting … but the train element allowed the second-hand violence to be traumatic in this film. I thought that was something unique and special.

Mikey: I see what you mean, that is interesting.

Solee: Another less-common trauma that was addressed briefly was that terror of knowing something bad has happened to someone you love but not knowing the details. The main character’s mother calls him and it’s clear that she’s becoming a zombie, but we never see what happened to her. He never knows. People tend to find comfort in details and he (and consequently we) were denied them. Upped the tension, I think.

Mikey: It is a rare trick that we actually never got to know what happened to her. Other movies would’ve shown us the other side and left only him in the dark. I did notice that Zombie Mom was still able to hang up the phone at the end, though! Which brings me to this movie’s Protagonist Magic: if you are a main character, you turn into zombie a lot slower than anybody else. This movie featured the quickest turn of any zombies in history - 2 seconds is about what I’d call it. Unless you were a main character, where it could be as much as 3 or 4 minutes. His mother was on the slower side, at thirty seconds or so.

Solee: It depended on whether they had important lessons to impart to us before they died!

Mikey: That is the heart of Protagonist Magic… whatever helps the story more! Speaking of that story, I believe this entire movie was created to teach a very specific lesson to a very specific person. What did we learn, Solee?

Solee: You can’t see it because I’m in another room, but I just rolled my eyes SO HARD at you. Haha!

Mikey: I could feel it.

Solee: The super duper evil guy, the COO of Stallion Express (not sure what that is), completely embodied Solee’s #1 Rule of Infection. He had a zero tolerance policy about anyone who had been anywhere near the zombies and was the first to shout “he’s infected!” whenever things weren’t going his way. He was a real jerk, but the thing is … he wasn’t WRONG. There WAS an infected individual. They should have been quarantined in some way. But he was doing it for all the wrong reasons. He wasn’t invoking The Rule to protect the masses … he was invoking it to protect his own sorry butt. It DID make me question my rule a bit, thought, I will admit that.

Mikey: He was so wrong! I mean, sure, actual infected people are a problem, but since they turn in 2 seconds, we know who they are. These people were clearly not infected and he was just Solee-ing all up and down the place! Punk. And then he killed Jin-hee in the most shocking and unacceptable moment of the film.

Solee: The husband of the pregnant lady WAS infected!

Mikey: Yeah, and he sacrificed himself bravely so the other people could get through, not himself! These were good folks, not like Solee Express.

Solee: In THIS movie, the infected folk mostly sacrificed themselves. They were very noble about it. This is not how normal zombie movies go … there’s always SOMEONE who has to hide their infection until they can’t control themselves. You and I both know which way real life would go. We live in America, land of Bad Things Can’t Happen to Me and I Am the Exception to All the Rules! The #1 Rule of Infection is necessary.

Mikey: But he didn’t need to know their honesty, he knew they’d turn in 2 seconds, so there’s nothing to hide (unless of course they are a protagonist).

Solee: EXACTLY. There’s always that one character that somehow manages to spread the infection to the group.

Mikey: Well, I can see that we won’t get anywhere on this politically-charged issue. So I will just relegate myself to dying moments after the next zombie apocalypse begins and move on: Speaking of sacrifice, what do you think about Jong-gil’s suicidal final act to reunite with her sister In-gil? Not really thinking about others there...

Solee: I was legit SHOCKED at that. It did not at all seem in keeping with the very strong message of “take care of others” the whole movie was based around. I honestly don’t understand how she made that choice. Her sister had just sacrificed herself to save her and the rest of the people in that car and Jong-gil just opened the door and let them all in. Crazy.

I want to mention a couple of people we haven’t brought up yet before we move on to ratings. First, Yong-guk, the sole surviving baseball player went above and beyond to protect Jin-hee, the cheerleader. That was an interesting bit of teenage drama thrown into the mix and I liked how he really stepped up. Actually, all the baseball players really stepped up. Teenagers, FTW.

And finally, my favorite side character of the whole movie was the conductor. That man took his responsibility for his passengers very seriously and he didn’t have the benefit of other people to work with. He was alone basically the whole movie, making the decisions and taking the risks that he thought would best protect his passengers and I have huge respect for him. I was SUPER mad when the rich jerk threw him to the zombies to save himself.

Mikey: You just go and go with this movie! We’re almost out of time here, but I want to mention my favorite person, not such a side character: Sang-hwa, who taught the main character to actually care about his child, was the best with his pummeling of zombies with his bare hands. When he got into it, it was like this weird moment where the movie sidestepped from normal zombie movie to superhero brawling. It was pretty ridiculous, but lots of fun. It also made me wonder if breaking a zombie’s neck actually stops it, because he did that a lot.

Solee: Sang-hwa was a tough guy with a heart. Every girl’s dream! So how are you rating this movie?

Mikey: This is not an artsy-fartsy piece with a bunch of metaphors and depth. It’s an action horror disaster movie with lightweight characters that you care about the same way you care about your favorite sitcom character. I don’t want to see Pam & Jim get a divorce, and I don’t want to see Sang-hwa get bitten by a zombie. But that isn’t a bad thing! Not every movie has to be artsy-fartsy. I don’t want to always be moping around in black and white metaphors. Sometimes, I just want to give 5 out of 5 to a movie for being a step up from your usual blah action nonsense. It was really great for what it was!

Solee: I agree! Our plethora of faithful readers are going to stop trusting my judgement because it seems like I’m handing out a lot of 5s this year, but I am happily giving this movie a 5. It was fun. It was heartfelt. It was action packed. I was more scared in a “oh, HE can’t die” way than in an “OMG WHAT WAS THAT” way, but I was scared. And I would definitely recommend it to others. Plus, it was fun to watch a Korean film.

Mikey: Okay then! So many good movies. This is a weird BHE year. What is happening next?

Solee: I want to promise that I’ll pick something terrible … but there are still some really promising movies on our list. I guess I’m going to go with Thirst (2015, not the Korean film).
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