As an avid watcher of horror films, I knew I had to see Train to Busan after hearing all the talk about it. It not only broke box office records, but was screened in various US theaters, including one in my area. I had the opportunity to watch it in the comfort of my own home last night and here’s what I thought.
Train to Busan kicks off rather slowly. The beginning storyline is nothing special; we have the typical workaholic dad who neglects his daughter, which we later find out is the cause of his divorce. He finally promises to fulfill his daughter’s birthday wish by taking her to Busan the next day to see her mother. The first zombie enters the picture pretty soon into the movie—literally as they board the train—but I’d say the action and storyline don’t become compelling until much later into the film. In fact, I found myself indifferent during the first thirty minutes of the film, laughing at times from the comedic relief provided by Ma Dong-seok’s character, but otherwise waiting for the situation to develop into something momentous.
I didn’t have too wait too much longer, because the film does exactly that. Although the film didn’t come off as terrifying or fearsome to me, it bears a powerful message about human nature. I would argue that the most horrifying aspect of Train to Busan was the duality of the human conscience splayed before us in a time of absolute turmoil. As humans, it is in our nature to want to protect ourselves, but how far are we willing to go to save ourselves, and at what point is it considered acceptable, rather than selfish, to help the individual rather than the community? These are the questions Train to Busan forces us to grapple with. The film gifts us with two types of characters: those willing to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others, and those whose morals become compromised and overpowered by their own fear and desire to survive.
This all culminates to give us one of the most brilliantly tragic movie endings I’ve ever witnessed. The last thirty minutes of the film are a cluster of gut-wrenching scenes, showcasing the consequences of love and sacrifice. As our band of heroes begins to dwindle, the situation becomes more dire and gripping. One of the toughest scenes to watch was Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) sacrificing himself to save his pregnant wife Sung Kyung (Jung Yu-mi), Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) and his daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an), Young-gook (Choi Woo-shik), and the homeless man (Choi Gwi-hwa).
But perhaps most heartbreaking of all, was Seok-woo’s sacrifice for his daughter and Sung Kyung, which is brought about by the pure greed and selfishness of Yong-suk (Kim Eui-Sung). Yong-suk is undoubtably the film’s main villain and the cause of multiple lost lives. His desire to only look out for himself at the expense of other serves to bite him in the ass by the end of the film, where Seok-woo ultimately throws his infected body from the train in order to defend his daughter and Sung Kyung. It is a moment of triumph with a short lifespan, because Seok-woo does not come out of the battle unscathed. His bitten hand tells the two females all that they need to know. At this point, both Seok-woo and the viewers know what he needs to do, and it is truly agonizing. Seok-woo leads the two survivors to the train’s control car, explaining to Sung Kyung how to work the break and steer the train while his daughter cries out in horror for what’s to come next. Seok-woo takes his daughters hands, and gives his emotional goodbye in a scene that is riddled with tears and sorrow. As Soo-an begs for her father not to leave her, he forcibly leaves, closing the door and going outside to the back of the train. There he reflects on the joyous moment his daughter was born as the zombie infection begins to take over his body. He recollects seeing Soo-an for the first time, and manages a smile before the camera pans to show the shadow of his figure falling off the moving train to its death.
This final scene of selflessness encapsulates a father’s ultimate love and willingness to sacrifice himself for his daughter. It is a far cry from the Seok-woo we saw in the beginning scenes, who could barely remember his daughter’s birthday. I think this scene not only reveals Seok-woo’s growth, but also serves to convey a powerful message that a father’s love is immeasurable.
Train to Busan combines classic horror with the existential and accomplishes everything it set out to do. From the cinematography to the acting, everything worked well to convey a powerful message about the nature of mankind and the unmatchable love of a father for his daughter. The film’s ending, though heartbreaking, was beautifully executed, thought-provoking, and undeniably memorable. If you like zombies, apocalyptic films, or just want to watch a something dramatic and suspenseful, this film is for you.