Two Cents Boards the TRAIN TO BUSAN

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Annyeonghaseyo and eoseo oshipsio — hello and welcome — to our new Korean series at Two Cents! South Korea has been enjoying a huge cultural upswell in recent years, especially in cinema, and for the month of April we’re featuring several recent Korean films that have caught our attention. We’re kicking things off big with last year’s massively crowd-pleasing action-horror-melodrama zombie tale Train to Busan from Yeon Sang-Ho, director of The King Of Pigs and The Fake.

Since terrified theater patrons of 1896 soiled their frilly undergarments watching a train pull into a station in L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (an urban legend to be sure, but I’m gonna print the legend on this one), trains have been a part of the film conversation. Even just looking at our own recent coverage, several immediately come to mind — Snowpiercer, The Runaway Train, The Train, The Lady Vanishes, Bullet Train, and Boxcar Bertha.

Another thing we’ve had no shortage of is zombies, probably best characterized by the runaway success of mainstream fare like The Walking Dead and Plants vs Zombies — and in the last few years the proliferation of zombie media has grown tiresome to many. Heralded by many as reinvigorating that tired genre, Train to Busan isn’t even the first to intersect the spheres of zombies and trains, but boy does it do it well.

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

His mother’s just died, his wife’s leaving him, and he’s being investigated for corruption. And that’s before he accidentally kills a pedestrian on the way to Mom’s funeral and tries to hide the body. It’s been A Hard Day for Detective Go Geon-so, and it’s only getting worse in acclaimed dark comedy thriller from Seong-hun Kim, director of the upcoming Tunnel. Catch it on Netflix!

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

Our Guests

Derek Smith:

As soon as things start out with that creepy ass deer, you know that things are a little different and special. Train to Busan has garnered a lot of praise in how it succinctly draws us into the characters’ world, and deservedly so. Come for the crazy zombie action, stay for the wonderful character work. (@darathus)

Shawn Gordon:

The zombie apocalypse genre has been overdone in recent years to the point of monotony, but the genre gets a shot of adrenaline thanks to Sang-ho Yen’s rip-roaring South Korean thriller Train to Busan. An international blockbuster with nearly unanimous praise, it isn’t hard to understand why, the movie tells a riveting fast moving story with likable and identifiable characters. Filled with suspense and action, but what makes the movie most special is a return to George A. Romero type social commentary with subtext on xenophobia and fear mongering, always timely issues, now perhaps more than ever. (@ShawnGordon15)

Brendan Agnew:

Unpopular opinion: I don’t mind the explosion of zombie fiction over the last decade or so. I know we’re supposed to lament that it’s watered down the creatures that the potency of the social messaging has been lost and that it’s just become boring seeing zombies in every damn thing now — and that ain’t necessarily wrong. But it’s also led to some fun, inventive, and even surprising stuff.

Like Train to Busan.

Paramount should be embarrassed that a film with reportedly less than 0.1% of the budget so thoroughly ate World War Z’s lunch, but Busan does. It absolutely captures the ferocity of the sprinting dead while also keeping an allegorical brain that should make fans of Romero and Brooks proud. The story of fund manager Seok-woo learning how to be less of a piss-poor dad as he and his daughter Soo-an are trapped on a train during a zombie outbreak boasts the kinds of exaggerated characters, high drama, and memorable action that would feel right at home in an anime (appropriate given it’s a loose sequel to director Sang-ho Yeon’s animated Seoul Station), and even features some enjoyable wrinkles to standard zombie rules.

But maybe the most welcome quality of the film is that, whether due to the disturbingly good physical performances, the sympathetic characters the film establishes to gruesomely threaten, or the tense cat-and-mouse sequences sprinkled among the spectacle, Train to Busan makes zombies feel truly scary again. Good to know there’s still some bite to this genre.

(Yes, I ended on a dad joke, but this is basically Dad Goals: The Movie, so deal with it) (@BLCAgnew)

Husain Sumra:

It’s so wonderful to feel tension in during a zombie movie again. I was tired of zombies, I had thought there was no way anyone was going to inject life into the genre for some time. Train to Busan proved me wrong. So, so wrong.

The picture is filled with largely stock characters, but the performances make them sing. I really like spending time with these folks, and I was invested in all of them, even the assholes. Well, especially the assholes. I mean, I actually like spending time with these people on a train. That’s the ultimate compliment, I think.

Train to Busan understands what makes zombies scary. It’s their ability to take away everything in a moment. It’s like getting hit by a train. So when you see how they attack, and you know what they do to you, that’s when you can play with tension. It’s how you can do a stealth sequence in a zombie movie. It’s how you can make a horde of zombies terrifying.

Man, this movie is incredible. (@hsumra)

Nick Spacek:

From friends who’d seen it on the festival circuit, I’d heard Train to Busan was the film that both reinvigorated their dying love for zombie films, as well as causing packed houses of hardcore horror aficionados to roll a tear or two. I was skeptical, especially on the first front: with the rare exception of something like The Girl with All the Gifts, zombie movies have turned into a series of Walking Dead knock-offs more concerned with overwrought interpersonal drama than watching the undead tear people apart or, in the exact opposite end of the spectrum, effects-laden ridiculousness which rings hollow. But here comes the frighteningly perfect Train to Busan, which has characters about which you actually care, who go through transformative arcs, and legitimately act like people, not caricatures. Plus, the zombies look pretty cool, and when things get bloody and violent, they commit to the gore and intensity. It’s an emotionally difficult film, but an exciting and rewarding viewing that does really reinvigorate an otherwise stagnant genre. Evidently, if you can bring plot to your special effects party, it makes everything better. Who knew? (@nuthousepunks)

The Team

Brendan Foley

Man, sometimes the hype is real. Train to Busan has been getting all kinds of adoring ink the genre-fan press, enough so that you might start worrying that no film, however good, could possibly live up to the slathering praise (let’s call this The Kick-Ass Effect).

Nope. Train to Busan really is that good, one of the most wildly accomplished and emotionally effective zombie films made…maybe ever. Writer-director Yeon Sang-ho’s background in animation lends itself to an exacting visual style, with a masterful control of the frame. It’s actually a little staggering to consider that this is Yeon’s live action debut feature, that’s how much of a master’s touch he exhibits over the frame.

But it’s the emotion of the film that truly took me aback. This is a film that takes the time to make sure that you truly and totally invest in the various characters. When the film starts hitting you with the heartbreak in the final third, it genuinely stings in ways that I was not prepared for. All of this coalesces in the final ten minutes, which I spent desperately fighting back tears as Train to Busan just hammered away.

I have nothing else to add beyond that this film is a stunning achievement that no amount of hype could have prepared me for. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw

Despite the critical acclaim (note that here I declined the term “hype train”), Train to Busan was everything I hoped for and ended up being one of my favotite films of 2016 — big thanks to my brother Ed Travis for giving me this movie on Blu-ray!

I recently reviewed director Yeon Sang-Ho’s prior films, dour anime tales The King Of Pigs and The Fake. These oppressively ugly and brutal movies unleashed scathing indictments on certain aspects of Korean culture, and were both incredible social statements and thoroughly unpleasant explorations of the worst humanity has to offer (oddly enough, in the end I kind of loved one and hated the other).

With Train to Busan, Sang-Ho maintains his social analyses of things like human behavior and economic stratification, but perfectly balances it not only with approachable storytelling and killer action, but the hope and compassion that are absent from his other films. His live-action debut is the arrival of a phenomenal talent, a work of both energetic thrills and heart-rending cataclysm. @VforVashaw)

Ed Travis:

Train To Busan is boilerplate zombie cinema done right from top to bottom. It isn’t that there’s a totally new or unique approach with this film, it’s just a really solid take on the classic zombie outbreak scenario. The zombies are fast, our main characters are on a train (perhaps the biggest element that stands out from the typical zombie tale), and the characters are just dimensional enough to engage and keep you on the edge of your seat, praying for their survival or escape.

While it’s clear that the budget for Train To Busan is notably lower than, say, World War Z’s, Yeong still manages a few new tricks with his creatures. The moment of resurrection from human to zombie is distinctly creepy here, with a whipping/writhing motion that feels like some kind of wire work trick but which looks disturbing every time it is used. The wide shots and tight shots of hordes of zombies are impressive as well. Equally important as the creatures and characters is the writing, placement, and execution of the set pieces. And Yeong uses the constricted environment of a train to expertly pace the movie and escalate the stakes from station to station, and train car to train car. (@Ed_Travis)

— excerpted from Ed’s Blu-ray review; check out the whole thing here:

Love the movie? As of this writing you can buy it on Amazon Video for $0.99.

Get it at Amazon:
Train to Busan — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

Watch it on Netflix:

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