The “Foreign Lens” is a column meant to represent international films and directors with distinct voices, showcasing their part of the world.
Train to Busan is a perfect film. The reason might surprise you. Directed by Yeon Sang-Ho and starring Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shik, and Ahn So-hee, the film dedicates its runtime to tell the story of a financial business manager who is separated from his wife and estranged from his young daughter named Su-an. She asks her father to take her to Busan to spend time with her mother as ultimately, that is where she feels most at home. The man obliges her request but doesn’t know how to make sense that his daughter loves his ex-wife more than she loves him. While on the train, Su-an and her father unwillingly become the origin point of an outbreak of zombies that infect the passengers. Together with a band of other survivors, Su-an and her father move from car to car, trying to get to the train’s safest area so that they can make the rest of the trip to Busan.
Train to Busan is supposed to be a horror movie. However, the film really takes its time to craft a lovely father-daughter story. Themes about what’s important in life and the connections we should be holding dear are present despite the dire circumstances. There is plenty of zombie action for those who are bloodthirsty and want to see zombies completely incapacitate multiple train cars of people, but the most thrilling part of what is an action-adventure movie with horror elements is how the relationship develops between a father and his daughter and how that care carries through the conclusion of the film.
So what makes this film a feast for the eyes? It’s the camera angles used during the zombie attack. Everything you see in terms of action is up close and personal and the cuts, while they are frequent, showcase different pieces in the action that don’t stray from the movement that’s occurring. Sang-ho does an excellent job of keeping everything in focus, whether that be the story beats or the action occurring while people are trying to avoid being attacked. The director makes every second and every frame count in the movie where he doesn’t have to. He could’ve taken so many different shortcuts to sell the action in a more studio pleasing way, but instead, he chose to keep everything in close frame so that we as the audience feel like we’re part of the action. There is no point when we feel disconnected from the action as a whole, and to keep things that much in focus for the runtime of two hours is beyond impressive.
I couldn’t write a review about this movie without commenting on the amazing performances, specifically those from the two leads in Gong-Yoo and Kim Su-an as the father and daughter. To say their chemistry is natural is an understatement. Both performers make looking disconnected from each other looks and feel like an art. The moments when they bond, then make the relationship feel like something truly special. Most of that feeling comes from their evolved understanding of each other and the circumstances they are trying to survive together.
Train to Busan is one of those movies that, once you see it, it’s unforgettable, and because its setting and origin are based in South Korea, it is a perfect fit for the Foreign Lens cannon. Take a bite out of it this Halloween on Amazon, Netflix, or through AppleTV.