Train to Busan (2016) by Yeon Sang-ho

Yeong Sang-ho's film of a man and his daughter caught on a train, when a zombie apocalypse breaks out


"Train to Busan" was the highest grossing film in S. Korea in 2016, with more than 11 million admissions. It was screened in festivals all around the world, netting a plethora of awards, mainly popularity ones and about its production values.

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The first half hour starts off a little slow, as the film introduces the main characters. Fund manager Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) is a self-absorbed, divorced, workaholic, father with custody of his young daughter, Soo-an, played by Kim Su-an. Soo-an is having her birthday the next day and convinces her father to take her to see her mother, in the city of Busan.

On the train they meet several passengers, including a high school baseball team, a rather despicable business man (Kim Eui-sung), a blue collar worker named Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and his pregnant wife, Seong-kyung (Jung Yu-mi). Sang-hwa takes a dim view of Korea’s version of Wall Street white collar executives, but the couple bond with Soo-an.

On one of the stops, a traumatized homeless man and a wounded woman board the train. The homeless man rambles about horrible slaughter and the woman goes into convulsions and dies. The woman resurrects as a zombie and bites one of the attendants. The zombie plague spreads on the train quickly, as the passengers find out that the zombie apocalypse has spread throughout the country, but Busan has managed to hold out.


This isn’t a typical zombie movie. There is very little gore, so the movie relies on suspense for its chills. From the beginning the audience is given hints that things aren’t quite right. There is a spill from a biological research plant. Seok-woo receives word that there is a strike at one of the manufacturing plants that his company is involved with, while the news show footage of riots throughout the country, while Lee Hyung-dok’s cinematography brings on a feeling of claustrophobia. All this builds up tension, until the first zombie attack

Director Yeong Sang-ho sprinkles social commentary, that is both strong and subtle, throughout the movie. The film contrasts the theme of sacrifice with selfishness. Sang-hwa, the blue collar worker, speaks of Seok- woo working long hours as a sacrifice for his daughter. Seok-woos expression suggests that he might not have looked at it that way. This outlook contrasts with the selfishness of the white collar businessmen.


Kim Su-an's performance as Su-an is the heart of the movie. Su-ans innocence is the moral compass of the story. The young actress is believable and sympathetic in her role. This adds to the film's suspense. No one wants to see an adorable little girl get bitten by a zombie.

The film starts off a little slow, but becomes very gripping once the action starts. The strong themes and social commentary don’t detract from the story, and to some, even enhance the enjoyment. This is probably one of the most intelligent zombie movies since George Romero’s Living Dead series, but not nearly as graphic. It can easily be enjoyed by zombie fans and those who seek something deeper




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Asian Film Vault: Train to Busan (2016) by Yeon Sang-ho
Train to Busan (2016) by Yeon Sang-ho
Yeong Sang-ho's film of a man and his daughter caught on a train, when a zombie apocalypse breaks out
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