The Walking Dead essentially saturated the zombie genre to such an extent we began to feel undead fatigue. But South Korean filmmaker Sang-ho Yeon didn’t get the memo and it’s a good thing too.
Released now in its entirety, the three Busan films, which started with Train To Busan, followed by the anime prequel Seoul Station and completed this year with Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula, is a delightfully inventive skew on the zombie genre. Crucially, Yeon moves the concept away from its origins in horror. Yes, there are horrific moments, particularly in the first film, but Yeon is much more interested in nail-biting thrills than blood-soaked terror.
What Yeon has set out to create, and indeed achieve, are three very different films. The original Train To Busan is a break-neck thrill ride as passengers on board the titular train try to out-run and avoid a zombie outbreak. The film is a gripping ride that never lets you feel comfortable in who to root for. It is rare in the modern incarnation of the genre to have ambiguous characters who do not fall immediately into the ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ role thus leaving you guessing as to who might make it. It’s a set-up that pays dividends in the latter films as well.
Seoul Station is an often powerful essay on the ever-growing poverty gap. The rich seemingly overpowering the poor only to find out that they could soon become prey to a much greater form of consumption. It is easily the most political of the trilogy and, frustratingly, the weakest for it. Seoul’s issue is the way in which it wants you to think a little too much when you’re probably here for the entertainment rather than the lecture. That being said the animation is stunning and lends a sense of unease to the events that unfold.
The latest, and final installment, Peninsula kicks things into a higher gear. With South Korea now a quarantine zone, a band of mercenaries venture back to find a truck full of gold. This installment is just pure fun, taking on a tone and narrative structure akin to John Carpenter’s Escape From New York it never stops being inventive. From remote controlled cars that distract zombies to car chases resembling ‘90s video game Carmageddon, Peninsula never sits still long enough for you to question the madness.
It is to Yeon’s credit and talent that he has been able to create three such differing films that comfortably occupy the same franchise. Whatsmore, it keeps everything fresh, each film you go into expecting one thing and discover something utterly different but equally rewarding.
Three smart takes on the zombie genre that all work in their own unique ways, The Busan Presents franchise is worth catching.
Train To Busan Presents is available to buy NOW.