In the last post, I talked about THE HOST and I stated that I would follow up with my experiences watching Train to Busan. Firstly I’d just like to say that I am a fan of the macabre sense of humor that both of these films share. When a recently deceased deer cracks back to life after being run over I know I’m in for a good time.
This film feels like one part mission impossible and another part Evil Dead and it is easy to see the influence of western cinema on this film but it somehow manages to stay fresh and engaging. The zombie genre is often trite and perhaps it is just refreshing to see something original but I think there is more to it than just a new idea. Zombie films at their core evoke the fears of the societies that they are made in. I found this great video essay about zombie films that I thought I’d share.
This is now one of my favorite zombie films and I would be curious to see how the Genre is tackled in other cultures given that it has historically been Americanized. Perhaps it was just seeing the survivors story from a Korean perspective but the film was captivating from start to finish, a big part of my engagement with this film is how invested you become in the story of the main characters, this was the case watching the Host but I feel like it is more relevant here. The special effects are fantastic but you never feel as if the story is being compromised for spectacle. The Family unit appears to play a major part in Korean Horror films thus far and I would be interested to see how these values exist in Korean culture. my experience of western horror films specifically in the zombie sub-genre often features strangers who are often at odds with one another working together to survive. The film takes a lot of moments to breathe and lets the characters develop and my enjoyment of this film derived from the human element.
I appreciate that the film added new dimensions to the Zombie mythos while keeping them fresh and interesting, by having the Zombies distracted by the passing lights of the tunnel the filmmakers managed to make the formula work in a lateral direction.
I liked that baseball players were a major part of the plot and I was aware going into the film that it has gained popularity as a pastime in Korea when it comes to bludgeoning zombies to death (or at least back to death) it is best to use the weapon of your national sport (see Shaun of the dead)
I was caught off guard by the use of martial arts in this film the characters all seem like quite proficient fighters during several of the scenes and I wonder if this is a trope that is enjoyed by Asian audiences or if I am just generalizing. my experiences of western zombie films often involve the main characters haphazardly fighting off the horde so it was kind of interesting that Train to Busan made all of its characters such ass-kickers despite their backgrounds.
Some concluding thoughts.
This film is incredibly well made and I’m interested to consume more Korean cinema specifically action and Horror. I’d like to research how it was recieved regionally in other parts of Asia as well as internationally to see if the film or films like it have the chance to become box-office heavyweights in the western market because for my two-cents it’s one of the best zombie films I’ve seen in a long time and I hope more like it are made.
Scrolling through my Netflix & Stan catalogues deciding what I could watch for my digital Asia project I waded through the very extensive selection of Asian cinema made available on both services, and while I am interested in watching some of the other films on the list two films caught my attention interestingly both were produced in South Korea. The first film I came across was the zombie action film Train to Basan, a film that has generated a lot of buzz on the international film circuit and the latter being the monster film THE HOST. I made the decision to watch The Host upon a recommendation from a friend but I will probably follow up with Train to Basan at some point.
In trying to undertake an ethnographic approach to this film I had to establish how my own personal context influences my experience of the film and I instantly found myself drawing parallels to western monster movies that I have seen. tonally I found the film similar to the Piranha films in the sense that they were quite liberal with the funny death sequences and over the top gore. the film plays more as a Horror comedy in some parts and balances this with genuine moments of dread the scene with Park Gang-du watching as Park Gang-du is snatched away by the creature was genuinely distressing. I found the role of the American military in the film quite interesting, given that it is the reckless actions of one of their pathologist that resulted in the creation of the creature the fact they take control of the situation in a foolhardy attempt to stop the monster I can’t help but think that the film is taking a subtle critique of US military intervention.
The film plays with tropes seen in western monster movies but at times subverted my expectation in really interesting ways, one such moment is when the quarantine officer asks if anybody came in contact with the creature, Park Gang-Du oblivious to the ramifications happily raises his hand. Moments like this made the film really captivating for me everything from the cinematography to the music had a weird over the top off kilter quality to it that I really enjoyed.
I’ll take a moment to talk about the CGI in this film from my understanding it was produced in the united states and it is pretty average, the monster is very obviously not real and yet the film manages to suspend my disbelief. The film really amps up for me when it is discovered that the creature is the ‘host of a virus’ I thought that this was a really inventive way to make the creature legitimately threatening and also added stakes to the film given that Park Gang-Du himself is now at risk. I thought the film really utilized its human characters to progress the story opposed to relying on the spectacle of the monster
I found the role of the American military in the film quite interesting, given that it is the reckless actions of one of their pathologist that resulted in the creation of the creature the fact they take control of the situation in a foolhardy attempt to stop the monster I can’t help but think that the film is taking a subtle critique of US military intervention. I found it really interesting that the film cuts between English and Korean periodically whenever a military character is on screen. I almost found it distracting to hear English spoken when most of the cast is speaking Korean.
The film works for me on a number of levels, the performance put on by the cast makes the film really enjoyable, I went into this film expecting and over the top gore fest but found myself pleasantly surprised at how much the story of the central characters kept me captivated. Inventive use of set design and costuming makes the film come alive and it is easy to see why this film did so well internationally. as this is my first foray into Korean cinema I am very interested to see what else the country has to offer cinematically and will keep you updated on my thoughts on Train to Basan.
I was raised on a healthy diet of movies as a kid and a few of those films ended up becoming repetitive watches for me. one of the most prominent films I remember watching repetitively was 1998’s American adaptation of Godzilla featuring Mathew Brodrick. The film while critically panned at the time (who cares when you are 5 years old) yet I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. For many, this film comes across as a slight against the Godzilla mythos and more broadly against Kaiju films. For a long time, the American Godzilla was my Godzilla.
It may be the nostalgia setting in but I think the film is a great fun romp that was at times very earnest, however, after watching the original Japanese version of the film I can see why many would view the American version as a bastardization of the franchise and what it stands for. contextually the 1954 version of the film or Gojira as it was called in Japan was a fantastic post-war allegory for the destructive power of the nuclear bomb. Post war Japan would have been rife with anxieties about Nuclear weapons, the 1954 version nestles itself nicely into these fears and creates something that a modern audience struggles to comprehend.
while I don’t think the 1998 version is a bad movie It is easy to see how the destruction seen on screen leaves the audience feeling a sense of apathy, It isn’t able to tap into the cultural fears of the American audience. Comparatively the 2014 Godzilla remake which is critically regarded as the better of the American Godzilla films works much better. One can speculate that the effectiveness of this film stems from the fact it features imagery reminiscent of the 9/11 terrorist attacks which would play upon the anxieties of the post-9/11 America. many modern films use this type of imagery as it evokes an emotional response in the audience. For me watching the 1954 film feels less impactful than how it was probably received in its day, and while I find the effects a little hammy (to their credit some scenes in the movie are very captivating) the movie plays as a nice little morality tale about war, weapons and the human spirit and if a movie can do that more than half a century later it has done its job.
I’ve included a video essay that talks about the importance of Godzilla as an allegory for the Hydrogen bomb that I found incredibly helpful so I’d recommend you check it out.