The Horror Honeys: Horror from Around the World with Kim: Train to Busan (2016)

Horror from Around the World with Kim: Train to Busan (2016)

A Film Journey with Supernatural Honey Kim

Photos courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment
It all started with a conversation about the Turkish horror film Baskin (2015) with my brother. We had watched it the previous summer when I was visiting him. He has a fondness for movies that depict some version of Hell and I have a fondness for…pretty much anything horror. During the discussion, I'd mentioned it was the first Turkish horror film I had seen. This prompted him to say, "You should watch something from every country just to see how they're different."

The seed was planted.

For better or worse, I am never one to resist any sort of challenge. And this one stuck with me. It had me googling obscure countries merely to see if any horror film had ever arisen from it. From there, I knew I was a goner.

Using the extremely scientific method of drawing country names out of a hat, the first country selected was South Korea. Continuing with my use of scientific methods, I decided the best way to pick my first film would be via Twitter poll. The overwhelming result was Yeon Sang-ho's lauded film, Train to Busan (2016).

Unlike some of the countries I'll be covering, I've seen many South Korean horror films. South Korean horror has been around for decades, but in recent years, it's had a more notable presence in the horror community. The '2000s ushered in several prominent films, including, The Host (2006), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), I Saw the Devil (2010) and more recently, The Wailing (2016). South Korean horror has a strong focus on character, and often a slower build than what Western audiences are accustomed to. Korean horror also tends to prominently feature female ghosts in the stories, most often ones full of wrath and looking to bring forth vengeance for wrongs committed against them.

The characters are really the heart and soul of Train to Busan. Seok-woo (Gon-yoo), a single father who spends too much time at work and not enough time with his family, is escorting his daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an), to Busan to be with her mother for her birthday. Seok-woo and Su-an get on a train heading towards Busan and meet, among others, a pair of elderly sisters, an older businessman, a man and his pregnant wife, and a teenage baseball team. Before departing, the train they are on is boarded by a woman suffering from a mysterious bite wound. It doesn't take long for her to go full zombie and for the infection to spread throughout the train.

Train to Busan is probably a film with more mass appeal to a Western audience than the average Korean horror film. Its straightforward storytelling, flawed but relatable characters, and tight action sequences would hold appeal for the mainstream. Of course, America being what it is, there is still an English language remake planned. God forbid anyone must read a screen. I digress. Where the plot itself is nothing that hasn't be tread on before, the cramped quarters of the train offer an interesting challenge and the action and fight sequences will keep your attention.

The American standard for modern zombie films was set by George Romero, starting with his iconic film, Night of the Living Dead (1968). More recent years have seen films playing with the nature of zombies, their speed, the transmission of the infection and varying levels of flesh-eating/brain consumption. In contrast to what Romero introduced, the zombies in Train to Busan move fast. Like full out running and flinging themselves in every direction. The sharpness of the zombie physicality was also incredibly successful. In a contrast to a more traditional zombie movie, the fast nature of these zombies meant that there was a never-ending horde of terror desperately trying to reach you…and they might. On top of that, the sharp and unnatural angles many of them would move with created another level of unsettling to the movement. The lighting quick wake-up time for the zombie is also terrifying because it leaves little time to process someone has turned before they're coming for you.

The humanity of the characters is what brought the film together. You know going into a zombie movie (okay, really any horror movie) that there's going to be a body count, but getting an audience to genuinely care about horror characters is harder than you would think. As horror fans, we're programmed to keep a certain distance from characters. Like scientists with lab rats, it's best not to get too attached. When a film can get you to care about multiple characters and their arcs, that is a sign of something special. There's one moment in this film where Seok-woo is trying to convince his daughter that they must only worry about themselves. The disappointed and sad look she shoots her father is such a strong moment. Because neither of them is wrong. It is completely understandable and human to only be concerned for yourself and your loved ones. Yet, to lose any regard for each other is also one of the quickest ways to our own downfall.

Train to Busan isn't breaking any new ground, but it's a solid addition to the genre, and will definitely tug at the heartstrings. It is a worthy first film into my foray of horror from around the world.