Train to Busan Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok. Directed by Yeon Sang-ho. Not rated. Opens Friday at AMC Town Square.
In South Korea, Train to Busan is a major blockbuster, opening on hundreds of screens across the country, but anything foreign becomes an arthouse movie when it gets to the U.S. That does a disservice to Train, which is an unabashed popcorn movie—a big, effects-driven thriller with some very effective action sequences. It’s also cheesy and overlong, which means it fits perfectly alongside Hollywood summer movies. The hook is simple: zombies on a train! A barely explained biotech leak unleashes a zombie-causing virus, and the passengers of a train from Seoul to Busan must fend off the undead while trying to get to safety.
The cast is full of stock characters, led by Gong Yoo as the workaholic divorced father who doesn’t spend enough time with his young daughter. Thanks to the zombie outbreak, he gets to learn how to be a good dad, and his redemption arc is incredibly predictable. There’s also the callous businessman who only wants to save himself; the self-sacrificing badass; the pregnant woman; the teenage lovers; and the old lady (actually, two of them). All of them get their moments to shine, but Train is really about the impressive, expertly staged zombie attacks. Writer-director Yeon Sang-ho makes excellent use of the confined space, and he paces the story very well until the hokey, drawn-out ending, spending just enough time off the train to emphasize how trapped the characters are when they’re onboard. Compared to challenging, ambitious foreign art films, Train is pretty disposable, but compared to much of what Hollywood has been churning out this summer, it’s high-quality entertainment.