Sunday, January 15, 2017

Train to Busan

   If you like your zombie movies with a massive helping of melodrama, Train to Busan is right for you. What is baffling is also how easily this could've been a surefire popcorn movie- if only it had taken itself a little less seriously. Punctuated with some stunning action set pieces, Train to Busan has all the ingredients to be a genre game changer, but it's too focused on its own human element. For once, it's actually the excessive character development that drags this movie down. It seems almost afraid to just go nuts with its own concept in a futile effort to stay grounded. Even though its a mixed bag for me, there's no denying that Train to Busan is thrilling and exceptionally well crafted.

   The zombie virus in this movie is biased. It changes people into zombies in mere seconds, unless that person is a main character. Then the whole ordeal is protracted beyond all reason, and the movie's credibility starts to slip. But for the most part the zombie concept as portrayed in this movie, however inconsistent, mostly does away with the tired old trope that one of the heroes is bitten but doesn't tell anyone until it's too late. Thank god. No, the movie is more focused on it's explosive set pieces on the train which rival the intensity of any other zombie movie I've ever seen.

   See, these zombies are some fast and limber-ass zombies. They move with unnatural speed and strength, and while that might displease Romero-purists, I found it rather creative. Especially given the confined setting of most of the movie. I take my hat off to the writers and director for staging such inventive and creative set pieces. To a movie buff who frequently he thinks he's seen all that genre cinema has to offer, finding little treats like this are a delight. I love being surprised and shocked, and Train to Busan delivered with gusto on both fronts.

   It's a real shame then that so much of the movie is absorbed by dour melodrama. I mean, for fuck's sake, there's a sequence in the movie where three guys fight through entire train cars of these super zombies- a bona-fide popcorn scene, but the same movie gets really sappy and preachy throughout. There were two movies crammed into Train to Busan, a moody and dour drama that just happened to have zombies in it, and a non-stop thrill ride with amazing set pieces. We only needed one, and frankly we only needed the latter.

   The father-daughter set up is easy and by default doesn't require a whole lot of exploration or explanation. The screw-up dad loves his daughter and the calamity at the core of the movie gives him a chance to prove it to her, over and over. I can't even begin to count the number of movies that use this or a similar parental dynamic to skip over all the exposition required to explain a bond between two unrelated people. Train to Busan is absolutely dedicated to its straight-faced melodrama though, and it gets rather tedious. However it is the ending that kinda seals the movie's fate for me as a true mixed bag. I didn't like the way the movie ended, and I thought it tried to be emotionally moving when it was simply annoying.

   Yet if you can stomach the repetitive and manipulative melodrama there's plenty of gore and excellent action set pieces to be had.

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