Science Fiction Double Eater [Reviews: Train To Busan and The Girl With All The Gifts]

In honour of the late George A. Romero, two modern-day zombie classics:

Train To Busan (부산행, Busanhaeng) is a Korean movie made in 2016. Workaholic fund manager, divorcee and useless dad Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) must reluctantly accompany his daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) by train from Seoul to Busan, returning her to live with her mother - on the day Korea succumbs to a zombie plague.

I have enjoyed Korean horror movies in recent years, particularly Thirst (vampire horror) and The Host (newt horror). I can only comment on the few I've seen, but I've found them intelligent, well-written and produced, and willing to tell stories about families and relationships that are different to those in western cinema - as a result they're often very moving, while there's still plenty of action, drama, shock and gore, and also humour with just the right amount of darkness.

I can report that Train To Busan is another enjoyable horror. The backstory is unoriginal, with a viral outbreak from a quarantined lab, by-the-numbers fast-variety zombies spreading across the country and a disparate group of heroes must rely on each other, get their hands dirty and learn bravery, selflessness or perhaps some manners, all the while heading for humanity's last fortress. However the film works, making intelligent use of the train setting at every level - as an environment for tension-building and close-quarters action, as a microcosm for society allowing for satire and social commentary, and also as a device to control the momentum and pace of the movie. The ensemble cast are excellent. How do you help the audience warm to an unlikeable character and believe in his epiphany? Give them a real villain for comparison, in the form of Yon-suk (Kim Eui-sung) a company boss for whom the crisis brings out new depths of selfishness.

The Girl With All The Gifts is an adaptation of the excellent novel by M.R. Carey, the story of Britain overrun by "hungries" and of a young girl, Melanie, brought up in a school on a military base, strapped to a chair and watched over by armed soldiers as she attends her lessons with the kindly Miss Justineau. Just as Melanie's nature and her potential fate at the base are becoming clearer, the defences are breached and Melanie, Miss Justineau, single-minded scientist Dr. Caldwell and a group of soldiers make their escape in the chaos, heading for (yet again) humanity's last fortress, on the way facing moral dilemmas, character-building experiences and social commentary.

In order to turn this complex, thoughtful zombie novel into a film, the plot is greatly accelerated and several characters and subplots are simply removed - there's no mention of the tribes of human scavengers, for example. There are also some differences between the characters, in particular the racial backgrounds of Melanie and Miss Justineau have been reversed. This might be a political statement or a non-issue. The parts are taken by two extremely talented actresses - Sennia Nenua and Gemma Arterton, and there's very strong chemistry between the two.


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