|'Just when you think the excitement, the tension and the scares are over, the director gives you more, never allowing himself to sit back or miss a beat right up until the final moments'.|
Having watched Colm McCarthy's The Girl With All The Gifts under a month ago, I wasn't expecting to be singing the praises of a zombie movie quite so highly for some time, let alone considering a second entry into the genre as one of the best films of the year. That was before watching Train To Busan, however, a film which comprehensively manages to live up to the considerable hype which has followed it since its release in South Korea.
For much of the first half, Train To Busan stands up as a consistently well made and thoroughly entertaining action horror film. Director Yeon Sang-ho wastes no time in moving his film to its primary location of the titular mode of transport and steadily introducing the zombie threat which rapidly takes over the country. The choice of setting from screenwriter Park Joo-suk is inspired allowing for some truly innovative and unsettlingly claustrophobic encounters with the infected. Each action sequence is well-constructed and dynamically shot by Yeon. Parallels with 28 Days Later feel apt, both in Yeon's utilisation of an urban setting and in his fast-moving, rabid zombies, whilst the supernatural elements are also pleasingly influenced by J-horror offerings such as Ring.
Somewhere towards the end of the first hour, however, Yeon elevates Train To Busan further still, capitalising on the characters he has established amongst the terrified commuters to increasingly bring refreshing and authentic emotion into proceedings. The central relationship between Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) and his daughter Soo-an (Kim Soo-an) is wonderfully realised, with Gong believably transforming his character from the distant father we see at the beginning to a parent willing to risk his own life to protect his child. The supporting cast are also developed well, in particular Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi), the former providing many of the film's moments of well-placed comic relief.
In a manner reminiscent of Frank Darabont's The Mist, Yeon uses his set-up masterfully to bring out both the very best and the very worst of humanity. The way in which many of the survivors gradually turn on each other is teased out brilliantly, with ruthlessly self-serving businessman Yong-suk (Kim Eui-sung) likely to top your list of cinema's nastiest bastards of 2016. In the same way, those who emerge as the heroes of Train To Busan do so authentically to deliver some of the most affecting scenes you're likely to witness in a horror film for quite some time.
Importantly, the emotional elements are not given prominence at the expense of the action; moreover, Yeon pushes himself to deliver increasingly impressive action as the film goes on, with some of the most breathtaking set pieces to be found during the final act. Just when you think the excitement, the tension and the scares are over, the director gives you more, never allowing himself to sit back or miss a beat right up until the final moments. It's testament to Yeon's unwavering commitment to seizing every available opportunity to impress that Train To Busan becomes one of the most moving, memorable and, above all, entertaining experiences you'll have at the cinema this year.
Train To Busan plays LIFF30 again on Sunday 13th November at 14.30 at Cottage Road Cinema.
The 30th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 3rd-17th November 2016 at thirty venues across the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.