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Starring Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jung Yu-mi, Kim Su-an, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-shik, Ahn So-hee. Directed by Yeon Sang-ho. (2016, 118 min). WELL GO USA

I've seen countless zombie movies over the years. These days, to say it's an oversaturated genre is an understatement. Though I've had a soft spot for the genre ever since the original Dawn of the Dead blew me away as a kid, I can acknowledge most of them are either utter crap or so derivative they might as well have a “Part 2” in the title. Still, I seldom pass them up because every now and then I come across one that justifies my love for the undead in the first place. Like Train to Busan.

But Train to Busan isn't simply a great zombie film. It's easily one of the best I've seen because it transcends its genre like few others ever have. I'd even be willing to wager that those who don't typically go for this type of entertainment might find themselves enthralled. Mostly forgoing the usual gut-munching and gore associated with the genre (though the violence is still pretty potent) this plays like a crazy hybrid of 28 Days Later, World War Z and a disaster movie.

Train to Busan wastes little time explaining the cause of the outbreak, opting to focus on its characters' situation: They're stuck on-board a bullet train as a deadly virus – turning its victims into ravenous undead – rages across the country. However, when the infection begins to spread throughout the train, some passengers learn to work together for their own survival. Others, led by the increasingly hateful Yon-suk (Kim Eui-sung), let fear overtake reason as they isolate themselves in one of the cars, despite desperate uninfected survivors trying to get in.

The film is fast-paced, intense, smart, scary, suspenseful, funny, loaded with action and, surprisingly for this genre, often poignant. My youngest daughter is a zombie fan and we often watch these films together. Afterwards, she started getting misty once again while telling her mother how the movie gave her “the feels.” Aside from a remarkably fresh take on a tired subgenre, “the feels” is a huge part of what makes this film unique. The attention to its well-rounded characters is what creates many of its funny and heartbreaking moments. We get to know and empathize with Seok-woo (Gong Loo), a divorced workaholic who reluctantly agrees to escort his young daughter (Kim Su-an) to her mother's for her birthday. While this father-daughter relationship provides the film's emotional crux, all the major characters are so sharply-written and performed that we have a serious stake in who lives and dies.

There's also some timely - and not so subtle - social commentary on how baseless fear of others can make people think and do terrible things (and not just in South Korea, if you get my meaning). But mostly, Train to Busan is slam-bang entertainment, the smartest movie since Dawn of the Dead and emotionally exhausting in the best possible way. Of all the films I watched in 2016, this was the best of them, regardless of the genre.

EXTRA KIBBLES:

  • FEATURETTES: “Behind the Scenes”; “That's a Wrap”
  • ENGLISH LANGUAGE OPTION
  • TRAILER

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