Directed by Sang-ho Yeon
Right, I don’t know about you but I bloody loved Train to Busan – absolutely loved it. And by the looks of it, so did a lot of people in its native South Korea, where it’s broken records. However, due to this love I had some apprehensions about seeing this animated prologue (produced and premiered first) also directed by its creator Sang-ho Yeon. Fortunately, for the most part he delivers a powerful and suspense-filled ride to the end of the world.
As the title would suggest, the key setting is in and around Seoul Station. We open there as a pair of young ideologues discuss the need for universal health, before ignoring a “stinky homeless guy” in need of help. Not that there’s much they could do – he’s contracted an infection that’ll soon leave him with a taste for human flesh. Elsewhere, former sex worker Hye-Sun (Freide) and her useless, slacker boyfriend Ki-Woong (Joon) are also struggling for money, with the latter encouraging the former to sell her body again. She says no, but it’s too late because he’s already made her a website. This catches the attention of her ‘daddy’, Suk-Gyu (Seung-Ryong), who heads to the city to find her. Let’s just say his timing isn’t great. The action follows the band of the disenfranchised, as they try to find each other and safety. Meanwhile, oblivious to what’s really going on the government treat it as an insurrection so try to contain the horde: survivors and zombies alike.
You may have guessed by now that this shares some of the political concerns of Train to Busan. There’s a lot about social class and inequality that underpins the action, with the film very much packing an anti-establishment punch. It’s this that gives the journey from the streets to a stirring finale in some extravagant show homes more meaning than your average horror. As per its big sister, Seoul Station is that all too rare example of a moving zombie film. Moreover, although the characters are initially hard to get into, some late developments are well handled and give some dramatic weight to the nihilistic third act. Their dialogue is often a little didactic, yet it’s interesting to see how different people respond to their ever worsening situations. As more and more gets thrown at the characters the slow pace gives way to become a gritty, tense thrill-ride. Visually it’s extremely atmospheric, with the city being beautifully captured, and also fairly realistic. The people look like real people and, importantly, bleed like them. Thus what violence we see is fairly unpleasant.
Yet there’s also very little of it, which seems to undermine the possibilities of the animated format. The scale is also much smaller than Busan, with none of the same waves of the un-dead thrashing and splashing off the walls. This isn’t necessarily a problem – effective zombie movies have been made on a budget before. However, what is one is how low energy it feels even during the chase sequence. There’s an emphasis on wide shots and the soundtrack pulses instead of pounding. Consequently there’s really not much of a feeling of danger, save for a couple of notable sequences where the finally tempos ups (one of which takes a surprising and amusing turn). Sure, it just about gets by on the strength of its human dynamics. But with a bit more adrenaline it could have been a much more accomplished movie.
None the less, this angry, action packed and apocalyptic tale is an animated zombie film worth getting your teeth into. It’s urgent, striking and much less Hollywood than most of its contenders. Unfortunately its biggest one is by the same director, and has all the same commentary but with a much more exciting pace. Still, a competent zombie film can still make for fun viewing. So all in all it’s worth jumping board. But don’t expect first class.