It is refreshing to watch a big budget disaster movie that has characters offering platitudes in a most unAmerican fashion. Train to Busan is a South Korean import, designed with big bangs and with a huge cast of extras, but it is culture specific in terms of its humor and sentimentality. It is about the outbreak of an epidemic in Korea that turns people into Zombies, as blood and saliva can be transferred through a bite by one insane Zombie on a relatively sane human. As the doors of the bullet train to Busan on the KTX (Korean High-speed rail) are about to shut, a tormented individual who is about to go through the Zombie metamorphosis, gets on board. The infection spreads from her, coach to coach, as the train speeds through, unable to stop for fear of letting the Zombies out.
In India we have first class compartments and second class ones, and they are cut off from each other. It’s the same here, as the uninfected first class passengers seal the doors to the Zombie class compartments. Though the movie is intended as wall to wall entertainment, it has an interesting sub-text. The corporate types on board are ruthless and self centered, focussed on self preservation. They are ready to sacrifice fellow passengers to save themselves. But the women, the working class and the students are brave and selfless, and are ready to help each other.
However, the hero of the movie is, ironically, a corporate type, a fund manager whose ruthless policies may have resulted in a chemical leak that caused the Zombie outbreak. But during the course of the movie, Seok-woo (played by handsome Korean movie star, Gong Yoo) is reformed, thanks to his precocious 10 year old daughter, Soo-an (Kim Su-an) who is on the train with him. This delightful little girl embodies all the best Korean values of consideration for those less fortunate than themselves, respect for elders and the notion that the purpose of education is not to earn money but to gain knowledge of the world.
The people she encourages her father to befriend on the train are a frightened, homeless man, a tough working class type who knows how to deal with rampaging Zombies (Ma Dong-seok), his pregnant wife and two elderly sisters who dearly love each other, sibling affection being regarded very highly in Korean society. Soo-an also sings very well, and the movie, in fact, ends with a sorrowful folk song that she sings. Eventually, it is she who turns her father into a hero.
But sub-textual relevance aside, the film is quite striking to look at. It is composed with an excellent visual design (cinematography by Lee Hyung-deok) that turns the Zombie attacks into a form of choreography, with hordes of automated creatures pouring into the movie frame in dramatic fashion. This makes their attacks look like something from the insect world, or perhaps from an extraterrestrial universe. The whole thing is completely absurd and you laugh out loud in amazement, instead of being scared.
In short, Train to Busan is an out of the box experience for an Indian audience, and though some of the action is excessive and, at times, ridiculous, there is never a dull moment here.