Sang-ho Yeon (South Korea, 1978) made his reputation with three
feature-length animation movies: The King of Pigs (2011),
The Fake (2013) and
Seoul Station (2016).
His first live-action film, Busanhaeng/ Train to Busan (2016), is
a melodramatic zombie movie with political overtones.
The good people are from the working class, the bad people are from the financial world and from the political class. Some redeem themselves, some remain evil
to the end.
This film blends themes from Ford's Stagecoach (the isolated group
surrounded and outnumbered by the enemy),
Hitchcock's trains as mystery places (The Thirty Nine Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest),
and of course
Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the reference point for so many
It is a fresco of the human race viewed from the eyes of an innocent girl,
who is mostly a wordless bystander in the middle of the fury of human actions.
The happy ending is not that she survives the slaughter but her father turns
out to be a good and courageous man, not the selfish heartless man that
disappointed her so many times.
Seok-woo, a busy executive in the financial world who is involved in
greedy amoral deals, neglects his daughter, who, not surprisingly, wants
to visit her mother, who lives in Busan, a distant city. The girl lives
with the father and is basically being raised by his mother, her granma,
who scolds the son for having missed the girl's performance at school and
for not trying to heal the conflict with his wife. The father feels guilty
when he sees a video of the performance in which the little girl stops
singing and cries, presumably because her father is not attending.
It is the girl's birthday and he gives her a gift not realizing that it is
the same gift he already gave her on a previous occasion. He decides to
take the girl to visit her mother. On the way to the station they see a convoy
of police cars, ambulances and fire-trucks.
They board the train that is a model of tidiness and efficiency, but they
don't see two unusual passengers: a girl that is twitching as if epileptic,
and a tramp who is shaking like a drug addict but keeps mumbling that
everybody is dead.
As the train takes off the camera shows us a parade of passengers:
a group of high-school students, including their cheerleader
who has a crush
for one of them,
gruff but generous Sang-hwa, who is escorting his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong;
two elderly sisters who are a model of kindness and politeness;
The young twitching woman suddenly
attacks the female train attendant who was trying to help her,
biting her in the head, and this woman turns
into a zombie, attacking other passengers, each of which becomes a zombie and
attacks others. Soon panic spreads in that car and people start rushing out
into other cars, causing a flow of screaming running people that eventually
reachs Seok-woo's car.
Seok-woo, realizing the danger, is ready to block the door and leave
Sang-hwa outside, but Sang-hwa and his wife make it safely in.
The news that "violent riots" have erupted in several cities is already
broadcast on television.
The zombies are triggered by the view of sane passengers (but stop attacking
when they cannot spot any), and cannot see in the dark.
The train's conductor informs the passengers that he has orders to skip
intermediate stops due to the emergency. The next stop is a station where
all the passengers are supposed to get off and be quarantined.
Seok-woo calls an influential friend and arranges for him and his daughter to
avoid the quarantine. When the train arrives at the deserted station, all
the passengers head towards the exit, although the station is eerily empty,
while he and his girl head for a separate exit route. The tramp has overheard
the conversation and follows them. The big group heads straight into a sea
of zombies and many of the passengers are bitten and turn into zombies.
The few who escape run back to the train.
Seok-woo, his daughter and the tramp have no better luck. Everybody runs
back to the train. The men (notably Sang-hwa, Seok-woo, and
Yong-guk) try to stop the zombies at a gate so that
the women and the children will have enough time to reach safety.
The little girl, the pregnant woman, one of the elderly sisters and the tramp lock themselves into a bathroom.
One of the passengers, middle-aged Yon-suk, identifies himself as a political leader and orders the
conductor to head towards Busan, the city of the girl's mother, which is
supposed to be in control of the military. Most of the saved passengers (the
remnants of the big group) are in the car with the politician, notably
the cheerleader and the other elderly sister.
The conductor risks his life to protect as many passengers as possible.
Seok-woo, Sang-hwa and Yong-guk jump on the train as the train is already
moving (Yon-suk has given orders not to wait for survivors).
The three make contact with the women locked in the bathroom and begin an
epic journey through the cars of the train infested with zombies. Using
brains and muscles, they manage to fool the myriad zombies
The three men rescue the women and the tramp locked in the bathroom and
rush towards the car of the politician, but he orders the train attendant
to keep the door locked because the three men and their companions could
be infected. The other passengers side with the politician and block the door,
while the zombies are closing in on Seok-woo group, which now has to fight
two sets of enemies: the zombies and the selfish group led by the politician.
Sang-hwa sacrifices himself to stop the zombies and his pregnant wife sees
him devoured alive by the zombies, while Seok-woo and
Yong-guk desperately try to open the door locked by the politician.
The cheerleader and the elderly sister eventually help resolve the situation
and Seok-woo's group is allowed into the safe car, except for the elderly
sister who stays behind (kind and generous to the end), but the politician,
afraid of Seok-woo's revenge, convinces his fellow passengers to quarantine
Seok-woo's group into a vestibule. Jin-hee refuses to leave Yong-guk and
is locked with them. The hysterical passengers in the politician's car lock
the vestibule, fearing that one of Seok-woo's group might attack them.
Meanwhile, the surviving elderly sister, disgusted by the selfish behavior
of her fellow passenger, calmly walks towards the zombies and lets them in.
Only the politician and the train attendant escape the carnage that ensues,
by hiding in the restrooms.
Seok-woo learns from a phone call the cause of the zombie epidemics: a
biotech company that he funded.
The conductor, who doesn't know how many survivors he is carrying, has to
stop at a devastated train station. Risking his life, he searches for
another locomotive who could leave along another railway track.
He finds it and sets it in motion.
The evil politician throws the train
attendant to the zombies and runs out of his hiding place.
He boards the train where Jin-hee and Yong-guk are hiding and doesn't hesitate a second to throw the girl to the zombies that are chasing him.
Hugging her to the last minute, Yong-guk is bitten by her.
The politician is ready to kill everybody in order to save himself.
He reaches the slow-moving locomotive and throws the conductor to the chasing zombies.
Meanwhile, Seok-woo's group (the cheerleader, her boyfriend Yong-guk, the pregnant
woman and the tramp) were lucky to be locked in the vestibule: they all
escaped easily. But now they have to get out of the station while thousands
of zombies erupt out of their train after a collision with a runaway train.
This time it is the tramp to sacrifice himself to help the others escape.
Seok-woo, his little girl and the pregnant woman manage to catch the train,
chased by thousands of zombies.
Refusing to let the locomotive go, and grabbing each other's legs, shoulders
and arms, the zombies form a long tail behind the locomotive.
Seok-woo has to kick their hands one by one until all of them drift away.
Then Seok-woo checks the conductor's cabin and finds Yon-suk, but the evil
politician has been infected.
Yon-suk attacks Seok-Woo. The two fight and
Yon-suk, before dying, manages to bite Seok-Woo. Seok-woo now knows that he
is going to die. He tells the pregnant woman how to stop the train when they
reach Busan and bids goodbye from his little girl. Seok-woo, aware that he
is about to become a zombie himself, leaves them and jumps from the train.
When they reach the last tunnel before Busan,
The girl and the pregnant woman have to get off the locomotive and walk into the tunnel.
Soldiers are protecting the city. They are ordered to shoot the two figures
walking slowly towards them. One of them is about to pull the trigger but
the little girl intones the song that she had learned for the performance,
and not performed because her father was not attending. She sings it now inside
the tunnel and this tells the soldiers that they are not zombies.