Monday, March 13, 2017

Foreign Film Spotlight: TRAIN TO BUSAN

Some of the best films ever made are ones that the general audience has never seen, and this is because they were made outside of the United States.  Welcome to another installment of FOREIGN FILM SPOTLIGHT, where we showcase some of the best in foreign cinema to help broaden your horizons.  This week, we take a look at the fantastic South Korean horror film...TRAIN TO BUSAN.

Last year, it seemed that all of my movie-buff friends were singing the praises of Train to Busan, a South Korean zombie-horror film. Train debuted to wide acclaim at Cannes Film Festival and, from there, became a bit of an underground phenomena as horror fans around the world began to discover this foreign gem. This week, iTunes offered it as their weekly 99¢ rental, and I decided to finally give this movie a try. In the end, I think that the hype surrounding the movie gave me slightly unreachable expectations of greatness. However, Train to Busan is, without a doubt, an amazing entry in the horror genre and deserves to be seen by more people.

The story of Train to Busan is delightfully simple. A father and his daughter travel from Seoul to Busan for her birthday. A viral zombie outbreak begins to ravage South Korea, destroying city after city as it spreads. An infected passenger begins the vicious cycle onboard the small train, placing the passengers in a confined fight for survival as the undead quickly overtake the living onboard this train to Busan.

The primary, undeniable positive of Train comes in its effects, makeup, and general prowess within the zombie genre. This movie boasts some of the best-looking zombies I have ever seen, brutally displayed onscreen in a horrifyingly artistic fashion. I found myself both cringing at and admiring the devastatingly beautiful creatures hurtling themselves across my screen. South Korean filmmakers are not known for shying away from gore or excess and that is completely evident in this horror film. This is no thriller -- this is zombie horror in its finest form. Writer and Director Sang-ho Yeon, a relative newcomer to the film scene, knows exactly how to set up a scene in a way that sends shivers down your spine and turns your stomach without resorting to obnoxious tropes like jump scares. In fact, it is the subtlety within the excess that truly makes Train such an enjoyable watch. Violence and terror is displayed unflinchingly and unrelentingly, truly earning your fear and not forcing it with cheap tricks.

Furthermore, the heart within this film is surprisingly poignant. Father and daughter grow closer together and learn to love and sacrifice for each other in beautiful ways. Unlikely characters become friends aboard this train of death and, with each kill, Yeon amps up the emotional stakes extremely compellingly. It was also refreshing to see how little this film relied on expositional dialogue, as someone who is still getting used to glancing between subtitles and onscreen action. This was an incredibly easy foreign film to watch and is, definitely, an excellent place to start for people who typically don’t watch movies in other languages.

So, amidst all this praise, wherein lies the negatives of Sang-ho Yeon’s critically-acclaimed hit? Perhaps I am being unduly critical for unnecessary reasons. To me, Train to Busan excelled at checking off every box necessary to be a “good zombie horror flick,” but did nothing beyond that. No death surprised me. No plot twist or turn was anything but exactly what I expected to see (even as someone who is relatively new to horror). This was an extremely predictable movie. Now, within those boundaries, everything in Train to Busan works, which is a high accomplishment. For me, however, I expect and appreciate certain degrees of creativity that go beyond simply fulfilling tropes and following through on established beats.

Despite a relative lack of newness, I genuinely enjoyed Train to Busan. As someone who only really started to appreciate horror in the last year and as someone who is growing as a fan of foreign cinema (especially South Korean cinema -- for two other amazing 2016 films from South Korea, check out The Handmaiden and The Wailing), Train was a wonderful experience that I would highly recommend to any fans of horror. It may not have been a lifechanging cinematic excursion, but it was a far above average way of spending two hours. See this movie.

Jonathan’s Score: 8/10

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