Combustible Celluloid
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With: Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee
Written by: Park Joo-suk
Directed by: Yeon Sang-ho
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Korean, with English subtitles
Running Time: 118
Date: 07/22/2016

Train to Busan (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

On the Bite Track

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Often it's the simplest ideas that are the most ingenious. Get this one: zombies... on a train. That's it. Ingenious. And, amazingly, the South Korean film Train to Busan gets just about everything right with this scenario. It begins with a busy businessman (Gong Yoo), who reluctantly takes time from work to take his daughter (Kim Su-an) to see her mother on her birthday.

Ominous signs of something gone wrong include rows of emergency vehicles and a delicate shower of ash falling from the sky, a flake captured in the daughter's tiny hand. The train ride starts weirdly when people are attacked just outside the windows on the platform. Eventually zombies take over the train, and it's up to a cross section of people, a tough guy, his pregnant wife, a crazy homeless guy, a baseball player, and a cheerleader, to help each other survive.

Director Yeon Sang-ho -- a veteran of animated films -- makes the most of his scenario, using the speed of the train, its long, cramped corridors, and a clever sound design, to hugely entertaining effect. There are tunnels that plunge everything into darkness, train crashes, and tons of other nifty moments. One fresh one has hordes of attacking zombies tumbling over each other like frantic beetles.

Sure, the movie borrows from tons of other films, notably Snowpiercer, made by another South Korean director, and there's even a nasty Karl Hardman-type businessman character (whose extreme selfishness leads to the deaths of others), borrowed from the original Night of the Living Dead. But many great genre films stand on the shoulders of giants, so long as they add something to the pile. Train to Busan is a zombie film with bite.

Well-Go USA released it on Blu-ray in the early days of 2017, boasting a bright, clear picture, and gripping, explosive sound. It includes an optional English-dubbed track, two brief behind-the-scenes featurettes, and trailers for this and other features.

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