Tag Archives: Snowpiercer

Train to Busan (2016)

At some time during last year, everywhere I looked there were rave reviews about a South Korean zombie movie called Train to Busan. The poster looked relatively generic and the premise didn’t seem particularly original (zombies on a train), so I figured it must have been another overhyped Asian film bound to disappoint.

Holy shit was I wrong.

Train to Busan could be one of the best zombie movies of all time. I’m not just talking about Korean cinema or Asian cinema, but cinema in general. It certainly is one of the best I’ve seen, whether it is in terms of tension, excitement, scares, character development, and heart. South Koreans have already taken over the electronics industry with Samsung and the Asian music industry with Gangnam Style and those sultry girl groups where everyone looks exactly the same. Now they’ve shown that they’re a force to be reckoned with in film too.

Train to Busan shouldn’t have been this good. The story focuses around a divorced fund manager (Gong Yoo) who is catching a train from Seoul to Busan with his young daughter to see her mother. Naturally, a zombie outbreak erupts, and they find themselves trapped on a train with a bunch of different characters from all walks of life, including Sang-hwa, a barrel-chested working class man and his pregnant wife, elderly sisters,  homeless man, a bunch of kids from a high school baseball team, and a selfish businessman looking out only for himself. It sounds cliched, right?

Yet somehow, director Yeon Sang-ho manages to turn Train to Busan into a blistering thrill ride. The action is inventive and brutal — not entirely realistic but it’s admittedly stylish and cool to watch. The zombies are rabid and relentless, perhaps even more so than they are in World War Z. The train setting is great for creating a sense of claustrophobia and helplessness, but at the same time there is enough variety in the storytelling to not render the concept stale. It’s wave after wave of danger and difficult predicaments, and many situations where audiences will put themselves in the shoes of the characters.

Above all, the film makes you care for the characters. Some of them are indeed stereotypes, though there is sufficient believable interaction and development between them to create a connection with viewers. Themes such as family, social class, and sacrifice were handled extremely well. In the end, I was surprised how much a couple of sequences in the film impacted me from an emotional level. That alone makes Train to Busan the better train movie than 2013’s Snowpiercer.

Apart from a couple of scenes that were a little clumsy and CGI that’s not quite up to elite Hollywood standards (though generally good enough), there really isn’t much to complain about. From a purely entertainment perspective, Train to Busan is one of the highlights of the year — no matter what language you speak. Those who struggle to get into foreign-language films should definitely check it out.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer poster

It’s not often that a film with mostly western actors gets released in Asia nearly a year before in the US, but that’s the case with Snowpiercer, a wild sci-fi action thriller starring big names such as Chris Evans, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris and Octavia Spencer. The reason why Snowpiercer isn’t released in the US yet (apparently it will get a limited release on June 27, 2014) is because it’s actually a South Korean film directed by Bong Joon-ho (what a great name), best known for the wacky monster movie The Host (not to be confused with the Stephenie Meyer adaptation) from 2006.

Anyway, despite all its flaws, I had a fantastic time with Snowpiercer, which I think is one of the more original sci-fi flicks to hit our screens in some time. It’s actually based on a French graphic novel and is about a post-apocalyptic world where the survivors of a disastrous anti-global warming experiment that has frozen the entire planet live on a never-stopping train that travels in loops around the planet. There is of course a class system on the train, with the elites up the front and the poor stuck in the back in horrific conditions. The film focuses on a man called Curtis (Chris Evans), who is sick of the mistreatment and decides to launch a revolt from the back of the train.

Snowpiercer  is ludicrous in many ways and requires a certain level of belief suspension, but it works in the end because Bong manages to balance a weird, wacky sense of surrealism often seen in Korean films with violent action and gritty drama while not forgetting about the political messages and clever satire. It’s a unique blend that sometimes treads a fine line and occasionally gets a little too surreal for my liking, but on the whole I think it gets the job done. I’m convinced a Hollywood director wouldn’t have been able to create the same type of feel, and I’m glad there won’t be any America remakes because they won’t be necessary with only two key Korean characters (The Host’s Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung, who again play father and daughter).

For me, the greatest strength of the film is the depiction of the idea itself and the world in which they live in. The special effects are not exceptional, but they are good enough for a Hollywood blockbuster. The action also fits in with the rest of the film — it’s brutally violent in some respects but lacks genuine realism — in a good way — so that you never get the urge to turn away or categorize it as gratuitous.

The performances are solid, though not many characters are properly developed given the focus on the action. I had just seen Chris Evans and his blonde locks in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and he was almost unrecognisable here with the scruffy brown hair and dark stubble. Tilda Swinton is also fantastic and equally unrecognisable with her huge teeth as the nasty Minister Mason, while a special mention goes out to Alison Pill (from The Newsroom) for her small but important role as a creepy school teacher.

Snowpiercer is the type of film that doesn’t hold up to intense scrutiny because of how crazy its premise is, but thanks to the skillful direction of Bong and the fast-paced action it’s an excellent and thought-provoking piece of sci-fi entertainment that would make an awesome DVD rental or on-demand stream if it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves at the cinemas.

4 stars our of 5