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Train To Busan: Hype Train or The Real Deal?

by Jurmane Lallana

Photos courtesy of New Entertainment World

*minor spoilers ahead*

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Train to Busan, locally known to Korea as Busanhaeng, is a modern day zombie thriller that focuses on the survival of divorcee Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) and his daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) while inside a (you guessed it!) train to Busan. Together with a ragtag group of fellow passengers, they do what they can to contend with the outbreak and the horde of hungry zombies who want a piece of their flesh (or all of it, for that matter)!

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For the past few days now, everyone on my social media feed has been raving about how incredible Train To Busan is. The same way I don’t follow critics blindly when they say the movie is awful (Case in point: I enjoyed Suicide Squad), I wanted to watch the movie myself to see what all the fuss was about. The positive feedback was highly encouraging though, and so I was pretty damn excited.

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I arrived at the cinemas on a Monday afternoon, and it was PACKED. It was Senior Citizen Cinema Day when I went (so seniors get to watch movies for free), but the crowd was filled with young and old people alike. In fact, when we got to the ticket booth, only seats in the first row were available. Imagine that: front row seats to a zombie thriller! THE FRONT ROW. Great job! Haha.

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Now, let’s try answering the question I posted in the tile of this review. Simply put, Yeon Sang-Ho’s Train To Busan does not disappoint and indeed lives up to the hype. Visual effects are riveting and performances are excellent. My personal favorite is Dong-seok Ma’s character, Sang Hwa (You’ll see why when you get to watch it). Instead of dealing with a convoluted plot complete with villainous schemes and scientific explanations ala-Resident Evil, Train To Busan primary deals with how people react to the beginning of a zombie apocalypse scenario. It kind of reminds me of the Dawn of the Dead approach, with zombies as berserk as those found in 28 Days Later.

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With the train as the setting for almost the entire film, it hits two birds with one stone. Firstly, budget isn’t too constrained since it doesn’t show how the apocalypse is affecting the entire city/country. Secondly, and more importantly, it keeps you more immersed by keeping you confined to a smaller space throughout the journey. It feeds on how people hate being alone, trapped, and helpless. You begin to wonder how it would be like if zombies suddenly attacked the MRT you are riding. A horror thriller is successful if it gets you feeling that you’re experiencing it firsthand. With its properly-timed camera angles and sequences, Train To Busan does just that.

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Definitely, this movie is not for the faint of heart (I wouldn’t be surprised if someone ACTUALLY fainted while watching this. This is already slapped with an R rating, but maybe there should be a warning at the start of the movie as a safety precaution? Haha.) Beside and above me, people were screaming like it was the last few seconds of an NBA/UAAP finals game.  I wonder how it would be like to watch Train To Busan in 4DX. That would be amazing, with zombies just popping out from the screen, their breath touching our faces, and (fake) blood sprinkling everywhere every time a character gets bitten. Imagine the possibilities!

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I love how Train To Busan elicits so many different emotions at the same time. Aside from scaring you shitless of course, it makes you laugh, shed a tear, and clench your fists in anger too. It makes you proud of the selflessness of particular characters. It makes you scratch your head and cringe at how stupidity knows no bounds.  Just to be clear—this is not a case of a movie trying to be everything and losing its purpose. The point is that it comes out naturally for Train To Busan, without any imposition or deviation from what it is: a bloody terrifying zombie flick.

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Train To Busan comments a lot on what is ethical and what is not. Is the world full of human decency, or is it every man for himself? There’s even a line that generalizes fund managers as bloodsuckers and leeches. The whole process is a test of character for the protagonists. It shows them in their rawest form—who they really are. Are there heroes inside of them, or do they bail when the going gets tough? How do they live with the consequences of their actions? In a chaotic environment, is there space for love, sacrifice, and even altruism? Although there’s a healthy number of characters shown in Train To Busan, strip away everything and you get a powerful story about family, a bond between father and daughter.

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Featured in Cannes earlier this year and in the US back in July, Train To Busan is now a commercial hit. As of the 1st week of September, it has been reported that the film has grossed more than $88 million worldwide. That’s a solid figure for a non-Hollywood flick, considering there were no vast marketing efforts for the movie. It seems good reviews and positive word of mouth has been instrumental to its success, and I’m sure this will usher in a series of copycat films which hopefully will hold a candle to the spectacular execution of Train To Busan.

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Train To Busan is obviously the hottest thing in Philippine cinemas right now. Although pacing is a tad slow at the start, once you encounter your first zombie, they just won’t stop coming and will keep your heart pounding until the end. There are no gaps between stressful scenes, and it doesn’t really give you time to catch a breath. Visceral twists and turns keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the film, and you may find yourself muttering (or shouting) curses every few seconds as you witness life-and-death struggles happening right in front of your eyes. As great as it is, watch something happy after to shake it off, lest you begin to imagine that everyone around you is out to eat you. Haha. Seriously, you’ve been warned!

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With that said, are you going to catch a Train To Busan soon while it’s still available? I sure hope you do! Don’t miss it, or the zombies might just chase you in your dreams. Just kidding!

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