korean guy

Yes, I know that this movie has absolutely nothing to do with my train trip across Canada, but I still want to make a note about it because it highlights some important features about trains (even without the zombie context).

Train to Busan is a Korean film that has limited distribution in Canada and is currently showing at two cinemas in Toronto. I went to see it at the Cineplex at Yonge-Dundas Square and was surprised to see the house was almost full (much like my train from Ottawa to Toronto today). Heck, I was surprised to see a foreign film with subtitles playing at a mainstream cinema, but I guess that just shows to go you how generally out of touch I am with popular culture.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

First of all, I can’t tell you how the movie started because it had already started by the time I got there. I blame my lateness on VIA, which managed to turn my 4-hour train trip from Ottawa to Toronto into a 5-hour endurance test. The endurance aspect was further compounded by my getting lost at the King subway station trying to find a way up to street level that didn’t involve stairs. I ended up calling an in-house emergency line in Commerce Court that immediately brought two security guards to escort me out of the building via a ‘secret’ elevator that was off-limits to the public.

This happened on the way to the Church Street HI hostel, when I still had all my bags in tow. Even though I’ve already shed more than half my luggage weight since leaving Halifax a week ago (thanks again, Mom and Dad, for picking up my duffel bag from the bus station!), I’m still having difficulties navigating the train and transit stations mainly because there are so few elevators. I thought the Montreal and Ottawa train stations were bad in that regard, but Toronto is even worse, as most of the subway stations not only don’t have any elevators, they don’t have any escalators, either. My favourite is the subway entrances and exits (like the one at King station) that have a short flight of stairs leading up a long escalator, with more stairs at the top. Who ever gave that design the go-ahead needs to be, well, not necessarily taken out back and shot but at least given a very stern talking to.

But I digress. The movie is about a very, very, very good-looking Korean funds manager who is estranged from his wife and 7-year-old daughter. His wife lives in Busan while his daughter lives with him and his mother somewhere that is not Busan. The daughter feels emotionally abandoned by her workaholic father and wants to take a train to see her mother in Busan. The father insists he is too busy to take her, but he eventually relents because it’s her birthday, and the two start out on what they think is a routine journey.

How wrong they were.

Just as the train is leaving the station (in some place that is not Busan), a young woman infected with a zombie virus drags herself onto the train while the attendant is distracted by her iPhone and immediately proceeds to go into fully body contortion spasms, complete with popping veins. She then quickly dies and resurrects as a zombie whose first victim, fittingly, is the iPhone zombie train attendant.

It all goes downhill quickly from there, with passenger after passenger getting attacked, bitten, and succumbing to the virus only to turn into blood-thirsty rampaging zombies that immediately bite and infect other passengers.

The outbreak is not contained to the train but has already spread across Korea even before the train leaves the station. How people managed to board without realizing what has been going on in the rest of the country is beyond me. Major hole in the plot right there.

As far as characterization goes, there’s the usual assortment of self-absorbed jerks (including the father) who eventually either band together to help each other or remain self-absorbed and suffer horrendous deaths. Actually, SPOILER ALERT all of the main characters die except two, so they must have had expensive hourly rates and therefore had to be written out of the plot. There’s also the ‘pure’ character in the form of the daughter who, despite her father’s warning that she has to exclusively look out for number one, is always (and aggravatingly) holding up the proceedings while she rescues yet another hapless passenger that the audience has already given up for dead.

The ending was quite powerful and tied everything up in a nice emotional bow which, in my case, got soggy with tears. And I wasn’t the only one in the theatre crying.

It was a good movie that I would recommend not only for the zombie scenes but even more importantly for the train, which is the true star of the movie (as the movie title implies). Like almost everyone else, it, too, SPOILER ALERT dies, but not before heroically trapping the “monsters” in successive cars while the hero survivors keep fleeing to the next car. If only for a short time, the train to Busan provides the survivors with a safe space from a world gone mad before being obliterated along with nearly everyone and everything else.

I found it fascinating to see detailed interiors of the Korean trains and stations, including the different classes of cars and bathrooms. Then at one point during the film it struck me that I’m possibly becoming obsessed with trains. Case in point: after the movie, I went on a one-hour subway ride (half-hour up and half-hour back) to the Whole Foods at Yonge and Sheppard just so I get my evening train ride fix. Subways are a poor man’s version of “real” trains.

I’m now sitting up all night mainly because I don’t want to miss my early morning train to Detroit (via Windsor) but also because I’m holding off falling asleep so I can sleep on the train later. I love sleeping on trains! I sleep deeper and get a better sleep within a shorter timeframe. I even take mini-naps on subways and exit the subway car more refreshed than what I got on.

Does this mean I’m in love – with trains? Perhaps. But I could definitely be in love with that Korean guy in the movie, though I’m guessing he’s already taken.


Train to Busan is still playing in Toronto. If you’re there, go see it.