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'Train to Busan' Toronto After Dark 2016 Review: An emotionally hard-hitting, blood-splattered trip through zombie territory

October 17, 2016Ben MK

It takes a lot — more than mere blood and guts — to make a standout zombie thriller. Yet, that's exactly what writer/director Sang-ho Yeon has crafted with Train to Busan, a masterfully executed genre gem that places as much weight on raw emotion and human drama as it does on bloody, brain-eating carnage.

The film's story revolves around overworked fund manager Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) and his young daughter Su-an (Soo-an Kim), who board a packed commuter train bound for — as the title suggests — Busan, to visit Su-an's mother, Seok-woo's ex-wife. Just as the train departs Seoul Station, however, another passenger sneaks through its doors... a woman suffering the effects of a viral (read: zombie) outbreak that's befallen the nation.

Of course, the infection quickly spreads through the train like wildfire. And as the high-speed locomotive becomes a 200 mph death trap, Seok-woo, Su-an and a small group of survivors — including burly badass Sang-hwa (Dong-seok Ma), his pregnant wife Sung-kyeong (Yu-mi Jeong), high school baseball player Young-gook (Woo-sik Choi) and his girlfriend Jin-hee (So-hee Ahn) — find themselves rallying together to try to make it to their destination alive.

The result is a harrowing journey through blood-splattered zombie territory. But at the same time, Train to Busan also brings some much-needed depth to the genre. Not only does the movie incorporate allegories for class warfare into its narrative, it also imbues it with a great deal of emotional heft, thanks to the relatable plights of its core group of characters, whom the audience will become intensely familiar with as the movie speeds along.

At the center of it all is Seok-woo, a man who has always been primarily been concerned solely with his own welfare. However, as he realizes what a disappointment his behavior has been to his daughter, he makes a conscious effort to redeem himself in her eyes. It's an arc that carries the film through to its action-packed, yet emotionally hard-hitting conclusion, firmly anchored by a trio of solid performances from Gong, Kim and Jeong.

That being said, Train to Busan's thrills are an equal match for its drama. Best known for directing anime features, Yeon brings a breakneck energy the film's action sequences, thanks to zombies which aren't so much creatures of The Walking Dead variety, but more 28 Days Later in nature. And though the film doesn't rely heavily on gore, it's precisely this balance between fast-paced thrills and heartbreaking emotion that makes it a must-see genre entry.

Train to Busan is a Special Presentation of Toronto After Dark 2016. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 58 Mins.

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