Blood? Check. Slobbering, fast, rabid zombies? Double check. Characters you care about? Yup. And social commentary? Bucketloads of it.
Zombie movies usually have heart about them in the oddest ways. Just think Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead. But South Korean exports are usually full of drama, so no one should be surprised about the raw emotional centre of this movie amid all the gross physical carnage.
The plot is straightforward: Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) is a workaholic hedge fund manager who's travelling on a high speed train with his daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) to Busan to meet his estranged wife for the kid's birthday. It's just an hour's train ride from Seoul.
So what could go wrong? Only an outbreak of a zombie infection that spreads so fast that cities become ghost towns in a matter of hours.
Like 28 Days Later and its brethren, these are fast zombies - who even pile up one on top of another to sink their teeth into that oh-so-delicious human flesh. The rules are more or less the same always - a singe bite or scratch will turn you into a snarling monster with milky grey eyes and bulging purple veins.
There are characters on the train that are so likeable that you really begin to care about them (rare for a zombie film) - even though you know most will just join the horde sooner than later, considering a train is a tightly enclosed space where the zombies are just a glass door away. There's Sang (Ma Dong Seok), a burly man who punches his way though zombies to save his pregnant wife Sung (Yu-mi Jeong), a school team of baseball players, a couple of grannies and a horrible businessman who'll throw anyone at the zombies just to save himself.
This pretty much helps make every death reasonably meaningful. The jerk businessman is a great antagonist, and the father/daughter relationship is almost tear-inducing.
Selfishness, responsibility and heroism are all recurring themes. It's an age-old zombie subgenre question: When a zombie outbreak happens, do you look after yourself or try to be the hero?
Seok-woo tells his daughter early in the first half, "At a time like this, only watch out for yourself". But he himself realises the error of such advice soon enough.
It is about survival of the fittest and sacrifice - the movie shows how differently people react in such situations - some freeze up, others jump into action.
The movie differs from most US zombie genre counterparts, primarily because of the lack of guns. South Korea has restrictive gun laws, so to fight through compartment loads of hungry zombies with just bare fists and baseball bats is just all that much more terrifying.
The unnatural movements of the zombie actors work well, but there were a few inconsistencies when it cam to how easy/difficult it was to kill zombies with just bare hands. Director Yeon Sang-ho manages to also bring about some innovative zombie sequences using the train, which just drives up the pure entertainment value of the whole movie.
The action, which is unrelenting from the get-go is heart-pounding, aided by funky dream beats and some great cinematography work.
It's all executed with precision. The actors are credible and the dubbing works. Several scenes are claustrophobic, especially one where the passengers get off at a station to just see what's happening on the ground.
Thematically, the movie is a lot stronger than your average bloodthirsty horror movie in the way it depicts just how fear and panic can do our humanity.
Note: Just remember that this a zombie flick. It's advisable to not get too attached to anybody.
If you have EVER been entertained by watching the undead do their hungry thing, it's impossible for you to not be entertained by Train To Busan. The movie is a glowing example of how the whole zombie subgenre has a lot of life left in it still.