부산행 (Train to Busan)

Numerous articles have already been posted about Train to Busan and both audience and critics share unanimous point of view that this is one of the most entertaining zombie apocalypse thriller movies in recent years. This is animation director Yeon Sang Ho’s first live action movie. Two months after its domestic release, we finally get to see it in cinemas here in the Philippines. But there are several factors that set me apart from other local moviegoers:

I’m a Korean film and drama fanatic.

– The language doesn’t sound unusual since I watch something Korean almost everyday, and having seen these actors in their past projects allow me to weigh how effective they are in the roles they have been given here. Fortunately, all of them lived up to my expectations and some even surpassed them.

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@ The Original Coffee Prince Shop in Hongdae

People recognize Gong Yoo since he played the lead in Coffee Prince: one of the dramas which contributed to the international spread of Hallyu. His new movie Miljung (The Age of Shadows) will start its screening in Korean theaters this week. It is set in the Japanese era and he acted alongside Song Kang Ho, the actor from Snowpiercer. Just like Train to Busan, Snowpiercer provided intense action that took place in a moving train.

The rest of the main cast might be unfamiliar to those who haven’t had the chance to watch that many Korean films and dramas. And even if they did, they probably can’t remember the actors’ names or where they’ve seen them before.

I’ve just recently finished the series, 38 Task Force which stars Ma Dong Seok, the giant with a gentle heart. Playing his pregnant wife is Jung Yu-Mi. The actress reunites with Gong Yoo after their controversial true-to-life 2011 movie Silenced.

The song “Nobody” was a big hit back in the day and former Wonder Girls’ member, Ahn So Hee, is Jin Hee. She walked in like a stereotypical, assertive and possibly annoying girl but as the horror unfolds, her character is revealed to be quite likeable. She’s straightforward in expressing her feelings towards sports player Young Gook. If Gong Yoo’s a Coffee Prince, actor Choi Woo Sik is Rooftop Prince. I thought he can only do supporting for romcoms but under the right direction, he can bring out his dramatic skills as he won Best New Actor for the coming-of-age movie, Set Me Free.

Even the zombie stowaway is a noteworthy actress. I didn’t recognize her immediately but looking closely, it’s Shim Eun Kyung, the lead in the popular comedy movie Miss Granny,  as well as the Korean remake of Nodame Cantabile, Naeil Cantabile. She lent her voice in Seoul Station, Train to Busan‘s animated prequel.

I am currently addicted to W- Two Worlds, which includes actor Kim Eui Sung as one of the key supporting characters. He is brilliantly playing dual roles as both heroine’s father, Oh Sung Moo, as well as the antagonist in the manhwa that he has created. He once again proves how he can convincingly portray an obnoxious character : one that the audience wishes to get rid of, but just won’t die.

But delivering the strongest pathos is 10-year-old Kim Soo Ahn. Her innocence as a child and excellence as an actress turns simple lines into something totally adorable and sometimes completely heartbreaking. She played the young Kim Go Eun in the award winning movie, Coin Locker Girl, and she is under the same company as current Korea’s biggest stars; Park Bo Gum and Song Joong Ki.

I’m an online English instructor to Korean students.

–  Films and dramas base their characters and stories on actual situations but often exaggerated for comic and dramatic purposes. It is however, easier for me to discern the differences between their reel and real life since I’ve been talking to Korean students for a decade now and 80% of them are from Busan.

Interestingly, one of my students actually worked behind-the-scenes of this film ( somewhere in the editing department) so I’ve heard about Train to Busan long before it premiered. When I called her last Monday night, she said she literally just got home from Train to Busan’s dinner party with the cast and crew. She was ecstatic to meet and take pictures with the actors especially Gong Yoo. Ma Dong Seok, however, was not able to attend the event.

I took the Train to Busan.

I visited South Korea late winter of 2014. Prior to my arrival, I purchased the KORAIL Pass which allows tourists to go on unlimited train rides with discounted prices. The Korea Train Express (KTX) is South Korea’s high speed rail system that cuts down travel time from Seoul to Busan by half.

Gong Yoo’s character Seok Woo is a fund manager who raises his daughter, Soo An. But instead of coming home to a wife, his own mother greets him at the door : a sign of a marriage gone wrong. His ex-wife lives in Busan, a city that’s six hours away from Seoul, but the young girl’s relationship with her mom doesn’t seem to be as estranged as the couple’s relationship with each other. After running out of excuses, Seok Woo finally gives in to his daughter’s request of spending her birthday with her mom down South. And they got on board the high speed train before even realizing that a zombie outbreak has just occurred. Problem is, an infected stowaway managed to infiltrate the train and the vehicle is not safe anymore.

This totally brings me back to that time when I hopped on the KTX. The movie made me imagine how I would have felt if a zombie appeared right there and then. Well, considering how much I love to drink water and have the urge to go back and forth to the lavatory, I probably would have survived since I’d be in the toilet in the middle of a zombie plague. I won’t come out til it’s safe. I’d be missing all the action though. Good thing I didn’t encounter any zombies during my trip so I arrived in Busan unscathed.

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People from different walks of life go to the theater for various reasons. The Korean-related stuff that I’ve mentioned above doesn’t make me superior to other viewers. They only serve as examples on how prior knowledge and previous experiences can affect one’s reaction, thus, people can view the same film differently. But what makes a really good movie is its ability to put its audience on equal footing. Even with a setting as confined as the narrow aisle of a bullet train and very limited time to delve into each character’s backstory; the movie has all kinds of cliched yet relatable characters, a compelling story, some humor, a lot of action and powerful emotional moments. So regardless of background and interests, Train to Busan was able to evoke the same emotions and elicit exclamations of approval from everyone.

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