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October Horror Marathon Day 2: Train to Busan (2016)




Dir: Yeon Sang-ho, Stars:  Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi and Ma Dong-seok

I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that zombies are pretty played out. With two pretty popular zombie TV shows on the air, on top of decades of movies, it’s difficult to make your own space in the genre without being totally derivative.

Train to Busan uses its visuals to stand out from the crowd. The bright blue train uniforms, lit by the orange lighting, look great, even if they do bring to mind the worst movie poster trend I can remember. I know it’s basic color theory, but it’s a nice break from the drab settings of most zombie movies. The bright white uniforms of the baseball team stuck on the train are also great, they pop out of the screen and make the kids look really kinetic.


Even when the colors aren’t quite so saturated, Train to Busan is bright. Darkness, that staple of horror, is a rare event. The movie reinforces this color theming by making the darkness helpful to the characters, while well-lit areas become what’s dangerous by default. Two of the big action sequences are set in big, airy spaces, making for a striking break from the more claustrophobic confines of the train itself.

Unfortunately, the movie stumbles when it tries to tell a story alongside these visuals. It’s very cliche and moralistic, and there aren’t really any thematic twists to the narrative. The overworked business man learns that he should’ve valued his family more, the bad selfish people meet bad, selfish ends, etc. “Shades of grey” characterization is as much a cliche in zombie movies as anything else, but I was hoping for more of the subversion applied to the visuals to carry over to the rest of the film.


The characters are ciphers for the most part, but Dong-seok Ma played my favorite character, Sang-hwa, who spends the majority of his screen time punching zombies in the face and calling the protagonist an asshole (he’s totally an asshole). The hilariously evil bad guy is hilariously evil, and suffers for being more of a metaphor than a person.

Train to Busan gets a weak recommendation from me. I think it’s still worth seeing for the visuals, but it’s really disposable outside of that and I don’t think it’s a film I’ll be revisiting any time in the future.

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