Train to Busan Blu-ray Review
Zombies on a Train
Train to Busan, the Korean zombies-on-a-train hit, proves a suitably claustrophobia addition to the overpopulated genre.As an outbreak spreads across the country, a disparate group of passengers - including a selfish absentee father trying to reconnect with his daughter, a husband protecting his pregnant wife and a businessman who will sacrifice anything and anybody to stay alive - find themselves struggling with their own demons whilst on a zombie-infested train. The directorial debut of Korean animator Yeon Sang-ho certainly makes the most of its high concept set-up, dipping in an out of mostly train-based action to keep the pace up over a surprisingly sleek two hours. It also distinguishes itself from its peers, not just in terms of the unusual setting, but also in terms of the emphasis on the emotional content, as the human drama takes centre stage in the narrative. It borrows heavily from everything from the Romero movies to the 28 Days Later, to hints of the zombie hordes from World War Z (with a dash of Snakes on a Plane in terms of high concept action-horror, albeit without the self-aware humour).Unsurprisingly, there's an uphill struggle to stand apart in the zombie genre - and to remain plausible - with suspension of disbelief requiring new levels of stamina (the ridiculous pantomime villain and contrived social class structure analogy don't gel). And after half a century of zombie films, it's almost an unintentional source of comedy when nobody knows what a zombie is, despite the paradox of risking parody if they did actually acknowledge the pop culture existence of the same (c.f. Zombieland). Even the emotional weight - which sets it apart - arguably goes too far, often bordering on outright melodrama, with the already distinctly unexceptional score further ripping at your heart-strings. But decent enough acting - particularly from the child Soo-an Kim - solid practical and CG effects, and the aforementioned claustrophobic setting utilised superbly, still leave this a worthy addition to the genre. And it's certainly got a Raid-like acuity which seems distinctly lacking in its Hollywood counterparts.
Picture QualityStudiocanal drive Train to Busan to UK Region B-locked Blu-ray complete with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. Digitally shot, the film boasts sporadically impressive detail, whilst practical and CG effects hold up too, even if the latter does lend itself to slightly softer shots.
A faithful presentation of the source material
The colour scheme is curious at best, perhaps either a holdover from the different style of lighting used in the feature, or perhaps just inherent to the train set, but either way it leaves skin tones a little bit on the sickly yellow side. There are obvious budgetary constraints too, which also leave the film looking a little less cinematic, although the film does well to conceal these, and, despite the restrictions, the scale of the piece is often surprisingly blockbuster-like. Black levels remain fairly strong, and the film appears largely devoid of any digital defects. It may be a step below demo territory, but it's a faithful presentation of the source material.
Sound QualityThings are a little more disappointing on the aural front, with the US release's DTS:X mix nowhere to be found, and even the DTS-HD MA 7.1 core from the US disc reduced to a DTS-HD MA 5.1 for this release. Just to add salt to the wound, it even defaults to LPCM. Still, the Korean-language DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is a perfectly serviceable affair, delivering the key ingredients - dialogue, effects and score - with enough punch and precision to keep you engaged.
Enough punch and precision to keep you engaged
Dialogue remains prioritised across the front and centre channels, whilst the English subtitles keep pace with precision. The score is perhaps the weakest point, and at times feels positively feeble in amidst the remaining elements. It's a thoroughly unmemorable affair, but for its distractingly melodramatic overtones particularly evident during the final act. Still, the effects are easily the highlight, keeping you under threat of the zombie horde at every stage, and positively placing you in the thick of the train-based action, as if you were in one of the carriages. Louder and bigger effects touches offer more significant LFE input and, overall, it's a solid track unfortunately standing in the shadow of its technically superior US counterpart.
ExtrasThe slim selection of extras includes a short Making of Featurette running a little over a quarter of an hour in length, and a Preview and Trailer for Seoul Station, the animated prequel to the movie. The Preview is just the first two minutes of the prequel itself (including a minute of text credits!), and the trailer sells it much better, but it's hard to see why they couldn't have just included the prequel in full here as a decent extra feature.
Blu-ray VerdictThe film has a Raid-like acuity distinctly lacking in Hollywood
Train to Busan is an effective addition to the bursting-at-the-seams zombie genre - perhaps not the outright masterpiece ("The Best Film of the Year" - Jonathan Ross) that some might have you believe, and perhaps likely to better entertain if more subdued expectations were adopted prior to seeing it, but good nonetheless, and a distinctive entry courtesy of its emotional flavouring and train-based setting. Solid disc specs don't quite make up for the fact that the US release offers a superior DTS:X track, but the film is worth checking out either way.
You can buy Train to Busan on Blu-ray here
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