By Danielle Williams
Kevin Jagernauth reduces South Korean film Train to Busan into a culmination of other films and tired tropes while simultaneously comparing him to the country’s other successful horror directors, a bottomless pit that sees no winners. From his relentless comparisons to Snowpiercer, a film only similar in the fact that they both take place on trains, to his reluctance to see the film’s commentary on humanity, it’s easy to see why the film would be lackluster in his eyes. And while I disagree with most of Jagernauth’s arguments, as I enjoyed the film, it was his last few sentences that I disagreed with most:
At a moment when films and TV shows about the undead are plentiful, it’s not enough to just merely be passable, and even at its best, “Train To Busan” is just that. It doesn’t add anything significant to the zombie genre, nor has anything perceptive to say about humanity in the face of crisis. Sure, it lacks brains, and that’s the easy quip to make, but what “Train To Busan” truly needs, and disappointingly lacks, is heart.
The last line, in fact, the last word is what throws Jagernauth’s criticisms off for me: “Train to Busan” was a film filled with heart, more so than many films in the genre which is what made it stick out for me.
(The trains simplicity takes away from the film, according to our critic.)
First, we will tackle his unnecessary comparison to the Snowpiercer. Claiming where Snowpiercer succeeded in its storytelling was its distinction of the train’s geography, an area where Busan fails. He claims that this made the movie repetitive, with bland visuals. However, Jagernauth fails to realize that the two worlds are different. While both movies take place on a train, the train’s effect on the characters is inherently different. In the Snowpiercer, the train is their world whereas, in Busan, it is a character—it adds to the drama of the movie because of its confinement, while giving a sense of hope with its constant move towards “safety”. It acts as ground zero and a haven, and the fact that Jagernauth sees that as an issue lends to the fact that the movie lies within our characters, not necessarily their surroundings.
(Jagernauth’s surface “baddie”, Yong-Suk is a one-dimensional character to him.)
Another issue with Jagernauth’s criticisms is that he sees Yong-Suk, our selfish businessman turned villain, as just that. Yong-Suk is introduced as a character who has one goal: getting to Busan in one piece, whether or not that means other people are brought along for the ride. Slowly, he becomes more self-centered to the point where he is deliberately pushing people into zombies and tossing them out of train cars to save himself. However, when you read into the story that director Sang-ho Yeon is trying to tell with his obvious criticism of South Korea’s society and particularly, their government, you see that Yong-Suk is a more complicated character. Eventually, he seems to be the “voice of reason” for half of our passengers, questioning the infection status of others, convincing some to throw out those who threaten him, and securing the train doors without having to lift a finger.
To us, he seems ridiculous, but to others he is a savior. That is, until he pushes them out of the train into a horde of brain eating zombies. But much like the South Korean government in recent years (from news reports and citizens’ criticisms, I have no say as I am not a citizen) Yong-Suk acts in his own self-interest masquerading as concern for the masses. People turn to look at him as he speaks, they listen to him when he makes a request yet fail to see his selfishness. Many can argue that people act similarly with their government, thinking that they have the community’s well-being in mind when it is really only benefiting a handful. Some could say that this doesn’t only apply to South Korea and that mold can fit in any part of the world.
(People stop and listen to Yong-Suk, despite his harsh words and reasoning.)
(Seok-Woo remembers his daughter in his last moments, supposedly this wasn’t heart wrenching enough for our critic.)
Jagernauth’s last argument that I had to disagree with was Seok-Woo’s characterization. Jagernauth pens our main character as a selfish workaholic who only wants to prove his ability to take care of his daughter by the time the movie comes to a close. I could not disagree with this reasoning anymore, and I have to question if he even watched the movie given his conclusion. It’s a disgrace to think that with all that Seok-Woo went through, he was doing it to only prove his worth as a father. We slowly see as the movie unfolds, with all of the trials and tribulations that the pair had to go through, that Seok-Woo and Su-An truly love each other as father and daughter. Seok-Woo by the film’s end seems to care less about what people think of him as a father and is only focused on his daughter’s survival, along with the well-being of others including the pregnant woman and her husband. Su-An was finally able to express her need for her father’s love, that all she wanted was him unconditionally. We see a father and daughter grow together in hard times, and that fact that this has all happened within a few hours is incredible. I find that Jagernauth needs to re-watch the movie if he feels that Seok-Woo is only looking for validation– he is a father who has realized his mistakes and is doing all that he can to make sure the love that he has given his daughter is not in vain.
So, Jagernauth’s argument that this film lacks heart makes me question his definition of a “heart.” We see the struggle and need for survival from a group of people that have little connection otherwise. We see the growth of a father and daughter, and the aftermath that their love for each other will continue. In this movie, we see the corruption and damage that a government, a society, a culture can do to people and the breakdown of humanity from it. We see that love and determination are not all we need to survive but it is a damn sure component to survive in a cruel world. And if that doesn’t have enough heart for you, I don’t know what does.