Seoul Station (2016) Review

rsz_ss1SEOUL STATION (2016)

Starring Seung-ryong Ryu, Franciska Friede and Joon Lee

Written & Directed by Sang Ho-Yeon

OUT NOW on UK DVD & Blu-Ray from Studiocanal

Several groups of people try to survive a zombie pandemic that unleashes itself in downtown Seoul“.

Let’s get this out of the way. I have a confession to make.

I still haven’t seen Train to Busan.

I get it, every other horror fan in the whole entire universe has seen it and raved about it, I’ve seen the trailer and it kicks ass, and as far as I know it’s been available in the UK for a while. I just haven’t gotten round to it, I’m going to soon, I swear. Stop giving me evils. Stop the hate mail. I will watch it eventually.

“So why the hell would I want to review the prequel?” I hear you ask. Well, after a quick bit of research I discovered the animated Seoul was actually made before the live action Busan, yet released later. This is only after a google search so may not be true, but I thought this must be more than a cash in like expected, and I really wanted another good zombie movie.

rsz_ss2And let me just say, animated or not, Seoul Station is a VERY good zombie movie.

Seoul Station unfolds predominantly from the point of view of four characters: young runaway prostitute Hye-sun; her useless computer geek boyfriend Ki-Woong; Hye-sun’s desperate father Suk-Kyu; and a nameless vagrant who is desperately trying to get help for another homeless man, who happens to be patient zero…

Just from the brief character descriptions you can see that Seoul Station is not interested in conventional heroes. Everyone here is damaged, even if they don’t at first appear to be. They are each victims of society before the zombie outbreak, and this is shown best in the early stages as we see seoul Station as a nocturnal haven for the most desperate of society. Homeless, the mentally ill, all abandoned and left to suffer in the building. It’s because these people are ignored by society, the film suggests, that the outbreak is allowed to spread so quickly. Like the best of Romero, Seoul Station effortlessly provides a fascinating social commentary, and goes to some very dark places indeed to make it’s point.

But skillfully the film never becomes preachy or stops in it’s tracks to relay anything too heavy handed. One big difference compared to the low-budget Romero flicks of the past is the set pieces, no doubt helped largely by the freedom being an animated movie allows. Ho-Yeon creates some truly imaginative and visually arresting sequences, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen before. Moreover, he truly “gets” zombies, and their behaviour, their expressions of pure hunger, are something to behold. As is the gore, which is plentiful and rightly so.

While I doubt the story is as propulsive and energetic as Train to Busan, which I’ve heard described as a rollercoaster, Seoul Station is still a finely paced dramatic horror that milks it’s situation for every bit of action, tension, terror and subtext it can. It often feels choreographed, almost like a dance, the result of a filmmaker using everything in his toolbox.

After this, Ho-Yeon went onto make Busan, his first live-action feature, and if he’s taken half the craft he displays here with him, well, I’m not surprised it’s gone down so well.

rsz_ss3Any complaints are very minor. The score is a little non-descript and doesn’t always compliment events onscreen. Also, some of the animation can be a little rough around the edges. But it’s nothing really.

A dark hearted and socially aware thriller interrupted by the relentless undead, Seoul Station is an excellent zombie movie, and I can’t wait to see how it plays alongside Train to Busan.

9/10

Train To Busan (2016) Review

ttb1TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

Dir: Sang-ho Yeon

Starring: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jeong, Dong-seok Ma, Gwi-ha Choi, Myung-sin Park, Soo-jung Ye, Eui-sung Kim

UK cinema release: 28 October from StudioCanal

Train to Busan is 28 Days Later on a train in Korea. If that description appeals to you (and it really, really should) you’re going to love it. If not, well, let me convince you.

The plot really is that simple, Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) a divorcee fund manager is escorting his daughter Su-an (Soo-an Kim) back across the country to her mother by train. The pair are joined on their journey by fellow passengers including a pregnant woman, Sung Gyeong (Yu-mi Jeong) and her burly no-nonsense husband Sang Hwa (Dong-seok Ma); some high school students, including a baseball team; elderly sisters In-gil (Soo-jung Ye) and Jong-gil (Myung-sin Park); middle-aged self-centred businessman Yong-Suk (Eui-sung Kim); and an agitated homeless man (Gwi-ha Choi) who has snuck onboard without a ticket.

ttb2However he isn’t the only unauthorised passenger – just as the train departs an injured girl jumps onboard… narrowly escaping a bloody massacre on the platform.

As the train crosses the country the passengers become aware of a wave of violence sweeping through Korea caused by a mysterious virus, and they soon come face-to-face with the problem when the wounded girl succumbs to her injuries.

What follows is a tense battle for survival against mindless blood-thirsty undead as the train rattles along the tracks… But what will be waiting for them at their destination?

I’ll cut straight to it — Train to Busan is the best zombie film I’ve seen this year (although I’ve yet to catch The Girl With All The Gifts). The story isn’t the most original (right down to the obligatory dastardly human villain) but it is an intense, action-packed and solidly plotted zombie flick.

The cast are all very good, with the standouts being gung ho action man Dong-seok Ma, lead Yoo Gong and little Soo-an Kim, who is a real revelation for her tender years.

ttb3But as good as the cast are, it’s the full-on, intense action sequences that are the film’s biggest stars.  Remember the pulse-pounding chase scenes in 28 Days Later and its sequel? Or the high-octane violence of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead? Well, now you’re picturing all the best parts of this film.

Wringing every drop of claustrophobia from its compact train setting, plus some stunning practical and digital effects, the thrills and chills in this film come from the reckless, ravenous undead hurling their bodies over one another in a frantic attempt to sink their teeth into the survivors.

Forget Romero’s shuffling ghouls, these are zombies that will run you down and rip you to shreds, and director Sang-ho Yeon shoots each and every setpiece flawlessly.

However, it’s not all blood, guts and adrenaline. The script is tight and driven by some very effective characterisation. There are plenty of reasons to sympathise with our leads, especially as Seok Woo evolves from an aloof and distant dad as he comes to realise the true meaning of fatherhood. There’s something inherently sympathetic about expectant mothers and young children, so we’ve got plenty to invest in emotionally.

ttb4The story is even pretty clever with its zombies — the use of the undead’s reliance on visual stimuli makes for some very novel, tense sequences as the train hurtles through darkened tunnels.What’s more, the film is prepared to go big when necessary, with some extremely expensive looking sequences late on that remain utterly convincing and seriously compelling.

Train to Busan is not a game-changer, but it’s the best entry to a genre that many people feel has grown stale in a long, long time. It offers thrills, gore, interesting characters and a surprising amount of heart.

In short, you really do need to get onboard.

8/10