There is promise in the opening moments of Train to Busan, a South Korean box office smash hit that has been dubbed for the Indian market. Writer Park Joo-suk and director Yeon Sang-Ho dip into the tropes of the zombie genre to create a fittingly doom-laden atmosphere. A divorced fund manager Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) promises to take his young daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an), with whom he has a tentative relationship, to Busan to meet her mother as a birthday gift.
Unbeknownst to them, subtle changes are taking place around them and across the country. As their train begins to depart from the station, news reports on the television inside the compartment shows scenes of rioting and chaos. Zombies are upon them.
While the filmmaker’s knowledge of the genre allows for a good setup, it eventually devolves into clichés. Apart from the father and daughter pair, there’s a CEO who only thinks about himself, a heavily pregnant woman and her over-protective macho husband, and other characters who are never fully explored beyond these aspects.
The fast-moving nature of the zombies also leads to logical inconsistencies. In one scene, a disparate band of characters form a group to reach a safe location. They equip themselves by wrapping tape around their arms and use baseball bats against a roomful of zombies that can run and jump. Yet, they manage to escape unharmed. More importantly, the zombies themselves are generic. There is only a fleeting mention of where they came from.
Much of the film is a cat-and-mouse game between the zombies and the humans. The fight scenes lack the visceral punch that would make them interesting and the emotional moments are at times corny and overtly dramatic.
Since almost all of Train to Busan takes place inside railway compartments, comparisons to South Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho’s English language debut Snowpiercer (2013) are inevitable. That is where Train to Busan comes up short. Sang-Ho’s zombie film doesn’t have half the examination of class politics or subtext that Joon Ho’s adaptation had, and rattles on long after you stop caring about what happens to the characters.