2016 K-horror zombie film. 

The best "genre X" movies aren't really about the genre. They use a genre, but tell a bigger story, or stories. "Train to Busan", or "Busanhaeng" in the original Korean, is one of them.

I normally shy away from Asian horror, because burping ghosts and fox faced demons aren't really scary to me. But good grief, this one's a cracker. And on Netflix so catch it while you can.

The classic zombie movie formula takes a rag tag, dissimilar bunch of folks thrown together by the biggest natural disaster in history, Z-day, and comments on life, society, the universe and everything in the interplay of the various characters. The characters are somehow cut off from the rest of the world by being in a sealed environment, which is why they initially survive when millions of others do not. There is character development and various moral messages, and then almost everybody dies.

Spoiler alert

The McGuffin of this particular film involves an adorable little girl, whose fund manager father is a workaholic trying to close an enormous deal. He's so caught up in his life that it's his mother that raises the little girl, while the mother, living far away in Busan, argues to the father that as an involved, non-workaholic parent, she should be the one to raise their child. All the girl wants is to visit her mother on her birthday. Tear-jerkingly, she tells her father she won't be any trouble, she'll take the train herself - and when the father has nothing for the daughter, having had a subordinate buy her "whatever the kids are into these days" - a Nintendo Wii - he is guilted into agreeing. Sure he has a present, but he has nothing. Turns out another subordinate bought him a Wii for her for Children's Day - an event he totally has forgotten - which she quietly points to as the reason why she's not as excited as she could be with this particular birthday gift. 

His mother shows him the school recital he missed, having captured it on a video camera. The girl is unable to finish her assigned piece, having basically been gutted when she realized yet again, her father wasn't there for it. The mother explains that sure, work is important, but so is his daughter. As a result, both father and daughter board a train for Busan. And just as the train starts to leave the station, so does a frightened woman who's been bitten - unseen by the porter.

Yes indeed, she's infected. And she's a "runner" zombie, not a shambler. As she turns, she rapidly infects a train worker who runs to her aid. And soon two cars have been transformed into a horde of ravenous maniacs, killing everything in their path. The father grabs the little girl and runs for safety, locking the door on a blue collar tough guy and his pregnant wife, who interacted with the little girl earlier. When another lets them in, the tough is just shy of punching out the fund manager, but for the little girl he relents - having been chastened previously by his wife for referring to the man as a "blood sucking parasite" to the daughter earlier.

As the train speeds to Busan, we learn about various groups - the father trying to reconnect with his daughter, a rich high school baseball team with a tragic love story, a twin set of elderly ladies, a tough guy tenderhearted over his pregnant wife. The blue collar tough and the white collar fund manager bond over the shared fight against the infected. A CEO literally causes tons of deaths in his wake as he cares not one whit who gets hurt or killed as he looks out only for himself.

And the little girl and the father are brought toghether by this ordeal, only to have tragedy strike. The actress involved is absolutely INCREDIBLE, and she WILL have you in tears. It's a solidly acted drama as the train stops first at a supposed quarantine zone (it turns out the mass of soldiers waiting for them are infected, one of the most harrowing chases in the film) and then whatever survivors are left have to move from one train to another because a crashed train blocks the track at one of the ensuing stations. Body counts rise extremely rapidly - which means the zombie to living ratio gets scarier by the minute.

I won't tell you who makes it to Busan, the only part of Korea where the military fought off the zombie hordes, but it is the little girl's love for her father that saves the few survivors left at the end, in a bittersweat tear jerking ending.

Visually, it's a cross between World War Z and 28 Weeks Later, the zombies are mindless infected runners, but the real meat of the story is the themes of love and loss, the damage that workaholic culture causes (the father is basically responsible for the entire tragedy in a roundabout way) and class warfare. It's a solidly acted piece with great performances all round, and it follows ALL the rules, even down to tragically killing off some people you hope will make it. On one level it's a survival horror at breakneck speed from the fallen Seoul all the way to Busan, but it's the subplots and the humanity behind the episodes in the movie that give it real power.

Keep your eye on the little girl. That actress is going places. Said it before but I'll say it again. She's AMAZING. She has to carry a lot of scenes, but she has the acting chops to do it. The adults do a very very competent job, but she's the one that gives many scenes their very raw emotional power.

And of course, the movie's been optioned for an American remake - though how you're going to have the equivalent of a bullet train cross an entire country in the span of two hours is beyond me. Save yourself the trouble - watch the original.

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