Train to Busan (2016): World War Z on Wheels (Review)

Train to Busan still image

Written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon, Train to Busan is the follow up to the auteur’s animated zombie film “Seoul Station” (2016).  Sadly, the animated film is not available on Netflix – like its sequel – but TtB is a high octane mix of “World War Z” on wheels with a bit of “Snakes on a Plane” thrown in. 

(One could even argue that some of the film’s base plot owes a bit to Kramer vs. Kramer…)

The story revolves around businessman Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) who is estranged from his wife and fighting for sole custody of their daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim).  As things appear to be unravelling in his business life, he agrees to take Soo-an to Busan to see her mother. It is the child’s birthday and this is what she wants to do. 

It is clear that Seok-woo is struggling to cope despite the love he feels for his daughter. As they start their journey, zombies suddenly appear in the city, the train station and on the train itself. It becomes apparent that the undead are flooding the entire country.

As Seok-woo works to keep Soo-an safe he gets help from Sang-hwa (Dong-seok Ma) and his heavily pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (Yu-mi Jung).

Sang-ho Yeon has obviously been influenced heavily by the 2013 Brad Pitt zombie apocalypse film.  His zombies favour the Pitt film’s undead in behavior and amped up speed. Yeon has been even more influenced by the  later film than, say,  the 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” remake of the 1978 Romero classic. The earlier film (remake) featured super energized zombies that were, in essence, damned scary. Much more effective than George’s shambling and slow-footed flesh-eaters.

(Although Romero himself dislikes the speedier undead creatures, the new improved models, that can chase their victims down with insane speeds, are terrifying.)

World War Z gave us zombies that were more akin to Army ants with a sort of group mentality and a intense sort of adrenalized activity that made the James Gunn/Zack Snyder (Yes that Zack Snyder.) zombies seem turtle-like in comparison. Train to Busan also uses the WWZ ant-like behavior to good effect and while using some well established tropes, if you will, that have been established in the long running AMC zombie fest “The Walking Dead.” One being the “sound attracting the undead” cliche that has been a feature of the Robert Kirkwood series from the beginning.

There are other nods to film tropes that are present in other genres. The turning away of survivors by a larger group because they “might be infected” has been used before but its presence in this film fits perfectly.

South Korea has been top of the pack for some time with their “Z-Horror” creations. Train to Busan marks their first foray into the zombie film and, like other auteurs in the country, Sang-ho Yeon has managed to make film that is scary, entertaining and fast paced enough to keep us on the edge of our seats.

The performances are solid across the board. Dong-seok Ma, who was brilliant in The Good, The Bad, The Weird as the nearly silent giant hammer wielding villain in that film, is perfect as the muscle bound soon-to-be father with an attitude. The child actress Soo-an Kim, like other young performers from this country, offers up a truth in her role of the daughter and it helps the film along.

Sang-ho Yeon manages to keep the film moving along well, making the most of the claustrophobic feel of the setting. Unlike the Samuel L. Jackson vehicle of “Snakes on a Plane,” with its unintentional collapse into comedy, (“I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHER****ING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHER****ING PLANE!”) Train to Busan manages to keep things on an even keel.

There are a number of familiar South Korean characters to help the audience feel at home. A douche businessman, some young romantically inclined teenagers who happen to be on the train, a couple of sisters who, despite their bickering, really care for one another and of course the pregnant mother struggling to keep her pushy husband in check.

While the main action is around the estranged father and his daughter, a trio soon forms where the expectant father, Soo-an’s dad and one baseball playing teen (Woo-sik Choi) all try to save their respective female counterparts. 

At one hour and 58 minutes the film could have bogged down in the middle but the action and the storyline keep things moving as quickly as the high octane zombies that are flooding South Korea.

Train to Busan is a solid 5 star film that hits every mark spot on. There are no lags, lapses or mistakes in this satisfying action/horror.  The film is streaming on Netflix and is presented in Korean with English subtitles. There is a good bit of violence, not too much blood and no nudity.

Halloween Party at Playboy Mansion Playmates Body Paint and Zombie Waitresses

Halloween Party at Playboy Mansion Playmates Body Paint and Zombie Waitresses

The halloween party held at the Playboy Mansion featured some pretty awesome sights for party goers with Playmates showing up wearing body paint costumes and zombie waitresses who served champagne to the various private groups in the building. Zombie girls also worked as mini bartenders at several different reserved areas for VIP guests who paid that little bit extra to celebrate the spooky holiday a few days early in the house that the “bunny built.”

Michael Bay Zombie Attack on Set

Michael Bay Zombie Attack on Set

Apparently a zombie escapee from Brad Pitt’s World War Z got lost on Thursday when he wandered onto the set of Michael Bay’s latest set for Transformers four. At least that was how Bay described his attacker on the day.

Miley Cyrus Twerking Action Figure

Miley Cyrus Twerking Action Figure

A sure sign of becoming a cultural icon is when an performer gets their very own action figure. Ever since Hasbro developed the world’s first action figure in 1964 with its creation of G I Joe, the plastic re-creations have evolved into a specialist type of star related merchandise.

The Lords of Salem (2012): Subtle Zombie

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Heavy metal impresario Rob Zombie exploded on the movie scene with his first feature film House of a 1000 Corpses in 2003. Already a veteran behind the camera from directing his music videos, his first film (and his second) featured a lot of “heavy metal” montage shots and utilised an almost guerrilla style of film making.

Zombie then went on to re-imagine the Halloween verse in 1 and 2. He next film, he told interviewers, would be a sort of Ken Russell directs The Shining. Far be it from me to argue with Mr Zombie’s own definition of what his film is, but I would argue that it is more like Ken Russell meets Rosemary’s Baby.

I will not go any further down that particular road as I don’t want to give anything away.

Written and directed by Zombie, The Lords of Salem stars Sherri Moon Zombie as Heidi Hawthorne. She is a local radio personality who works as part of a three person team in Salem Massachusetts, home of the infamous Salem witch trials. A wooden box is left for Heidi at the radio station’s reception desk. It contains a record by a group called The Lords.

When the record is played on the air, it affects the female listeners of the audience, causing them to have visions of the olden days in Salem. Heidi is very affected by the music (which, for the record, would never have been featured on American Bandstand) and after she’s heard the music her landlady invites her to meet two old friends.

The film was obviously shot on location in Salem as the statue of television’s Bewitched character  Samantha Stevens (aka Elizabeth Montgomery) can be seen no less that three times. It’s as if Zombie wants to remind us that this is really about “fake” witches in Salem.

Zombie's cinematography made Samantha Stevens look a lot scarier in the film.
Zombie’s cinematography made Samantha Stevens look a lot scarier in the film.

Besides this reminder running through the film, a lot of black and white films play in the background in a few scenes. Heidi is watching an old “cop” film (featuring that loveable old heavy Jack Elam) and later when her boyfriend/radio partner Whitey  (Jeff Daniel Phillips) is watching a film, he is watching something with Charles Laughton (better known as Captain Bligh and Quasimodo).

There is, in fact, a lot of black and white themed sets in the film and Heidi’s apartment features a lot of black and white pictures and patterns. I’m not clever enough to know what the director is aiming for with this preoccupation with this particular colour scheme, but it’s obviously a clue of what is happening in the film. Perhaps it’s yet another allusion to the “olden days?”

The character of Heidi is a good one for Sherri Moon Zombie and she adds a depth to her acting that hasn’t been seen before. The film has a lot of Zombie’s “stable” in it. Sid Haig, Michael Berryman and Ken Foree are all Zombie “regulars.” The film also boasts the legendary Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson and Meg Foster. Most of his films feature a cadre of genre stars from old horror movies.

Quinn, Wallace and Geeson, Three scary ladies.
Quinn, Wallace and Geeson, Three scary ladies.

It was nice to see Andrew Prine  after he had to step in for the late Richard Lynch due to health issues.

Zombie has hit a level of subtlety that has, till now, been missing in his films. Where he has relied on over-the-top violence, blood and gore with villains that came close to being almost cartoonish; Salem strikes a sly and almost underrated  performance from all the key players.

A quick shout out to Bruce Davison as local Author Francis Matthias. He shines in his short performance and it was a pleasure to watch him in the film.

All the actors delivered exceedingly well and although the film had a bit of an ambiguous ending (to me at least) it kept me glued to the screen until the end credits had finished.

This may not appeal to the “normal” Rob Zombie fan. If you are expecting his usual fare of Heavy Metal Horror, you’ll be disappointed. But if you are ready to see a Rob Zombie who’s learned the art of insinuation and easing his audience gradually into the horror at hand, you’ll enjoy this latest effort.

I’d have to give The Lords of Salem a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. I’ve taken the .5 off only because the ending left me a little baffled. Despite my shaving off a half point, I don’t doubt that this will become a cult favourite.

Bravo, Rob Zombie.

Rob Zombie.
Rob Zombie.