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Passengers on a train from Seoul to Busan grapple with a zombie outbreak that is spreading across South Korea.
Train to Busan review in a nutshell
A thrilling and heartbreaking look at how the fight for survival brings out the best and worst in humanity.
Would I recommend you watch it?
Even if you’re too timid for horror films, you must watch Train to Busan. The rabid zombies are scary, but that’s just a sideshow to the film’s main point that the true terror to be feared is our capacity as humans to be self-centered and throw others under the bus in order to survive. The zombies are just the hair-raising plot device used to showcase it.
It’s not an unrealistic portrayal either — while there’re no such things as zombies (at least not yet), the ugliness of human nature is seen in countless iterations across the world, throughout the whole of time. Yet the film leaves us on a hopeful note that good sometimes prevails, though it doesn’t get there without tragic sacrifices and deaths that could have been prevented if some people weren’t so damn selfish. Which is basically the story of human history.
Or continue reading for a full review with some spoilers.
Full review of Train to Busan (with some spoilers)
Have you heard of Train to Busan? I can’t imagine that you haven’t, unless you have been living under a rock this past month. This is the Korean zombie movie that went viral — not zombie outbreak viral, but YouTube video viral — in that it did (and is still doing, in its 7th week of release) literally 10 times *better* than we could have ever dreamt. (Full disclosure: The company I was in at the time released the film in Singapore.)
Korean movies generally don’t do well in Singapore, but Train to Busan has earned five times more than the previous record holder for highest-grossing Korean movie in Singapore, which was 200 Pounds Beauty, released in 2006. It has even surpassed major Hollywood blockbusters in its earnings, and it’s all due to the incredibly strong word-of-mouth that the movie has garnered. People just keep coming week after week after week, though the crowd is finally starting to thin.
You could perhaps credit its success to the fact that it’s a zombie movie, what with The Walking Dead being so popular and all; but World War Z, the Brad Pitt blockbuster about a zombie outbreak, which had a far more extensive marketing campaign in Singapore, didn’t earn as much (though it still did a pretty good amount). Other Hollywood zombie movies have also never been anywhere near as well-received as Train to Busan. If anything, I think it was the human element of the movie that caused people to rave about it. In this apocalyptic zombie outbreak movie, you see how selfish people can be, how easily persuaded people can be to be ungracious and self-serving, yet how among all this selfishness, others can retain their humanity and generosity.
Even my parents liked the movie, and I never thought they would like a zombie movie. But they were touched, and reported other people in their theatre being similarly touched (re: sniffing and sobbing away). That’s the power of movies, not just to thrill, but also to reflect humanity — and not in the phony, feel-good way that most movies like to do it, but realistically, with all its flaws and sometimes unhappy endings.
It was gripping, thrilling and heartbreaking. I did not expect it to end so sadly, albeit with an element of hope (though maybe I should have, because it was pretty similar to Snowpiercer — also by a Korean director and set on board a train in the post-apocalypse, though that movie focused more on class warfare). For a moment there, it almost seemed like the show would end even bleaker, but thankfully it didn’t, because I can bet that the movie will not be doing half as well on an absolutely nihilistic ending. (I for one would be actively warning people away from the movie if that had been the case. Who the hell would want to watch a movie that’s so depressing and hopeless!)
As it is, there’s this really stupid piggish man whom I wish died at the very beginning, because he is the reason for almost EVERYBODY’S death. But if he did, I guess we would be watching an entirely different movie, and probably one that wouldn’t have been as good. Plus, stupid piggish people in the world don’t just die or disappear no matter how much we want them to, and unfortunately, they’re often very loud in their fearmongering too, which is what makes this film play out so realistically.
Where to watch Train to Busan in the U.S.
Streaming services: Train to Busan is on many streaming services in the U.S., including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hoopla, Shudder and Viki. It’s also available to stream for free on Vudu, Tubi TV and Crackle if you’re in the U.S. It’s not on Hulu though.
Where to watch Train to Busan in Singapore
Streaming services: Train to Busan is not on Netflix Singapore, Amazon Prime Video or any other local streaming services.
Rent/Buy: Get it on iTunes