Miss the limited run of Sang-ho Yeon’s animated prequel to Train to Busan? Well if you can, you should try to hunt down this prequel to the hugely popular South Korean zombie flick. Here’s why.
Train to Busan was a pleasant surprise in a Summer movie season ripe with disappointments. I described it as “an incredibly entertaining thriller that swept me right up in it and kept me engaged throughout the whole movie”, a feeling that was sorely lacking in many of the big summer blockbusters.
While Train to Busan reached most cinemas first, Seoul Station was created first; a bridge between Sang-ho Yeon’s animated directorial career and his burgeoning live action success.
If you were hoping for some explanation of the source of the zombie outbreak that remained mysteriously vague in Train to Busan, you’re in for a disappointment. Seoul Station tells an altogether self-contained tale of the epidemic in Seoul, starting in the local homeless population and spreading through the city. Similarly, you won’t see any familiar faces from the live action version cropping up.
Like Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) and Soo-an(Soo-an Kim) in Train to Busan our viewpoint characters this time around are runaway Hye-sun (voiced by Shim Eun-kyung), her good for nothing weasel of a boyfriend Ki-woong (Lee Joon) and her heavily built father (Ryu Seong-ryong). Having run away from home some time ago, and having spent at least some time in a brothel, Hye-sun’s finally had enough with her feckless, continually broke boyfriend and storms off after a particularly distressing argument. Unfortunately, she has no place to go but join the homeless and spend the night at the local train station. It’s even more unfortunate that she had this spat just as a zombie virus breaks out in the same station she’s taking refuge in.
The only thing in Hye-sun’s favour is that her father has found her online and is on his way to find her.
From here the cast pass through the orbits of multiple characters as they slowly become aware of what’s happening around them and try to find each other in a city becoming increasingly dangerous, from both the ever growing zombie hordes and the clueless forces of the authorities.
Like Train to Busan, Seoul Station features a barrage of interesting characters who pass in and out of the story. It revels in introducing likeable characters and then dealing them a horrible fate. Even more so than the live action film, this is helped by the visual design of the characters, their unique design making each easily identifiable and empathetic in short a time as possible.
Seoul Station also manages to ratchet the tension up to a level exceeding it’s live action sibling. Rather than confining the action (mostly) to the cramped interior of a train, this time danger can come anywhere. Sequences featuring the stressful crossing of a high wire, being locked in a narrow jail cell with Zombies just out of arms reach or and being trapped in an ambulance on the way to a hospital you just know is infested with the undead, all set the pulse racing in just the right way.
Whereas Train to Busan had a serious message at its core about the stratification of society and the battle lines drawn between those who were only out for themselves and those who were looking out for each other, there’s an even more powerful message at the heart of Seoul Station.
Repeatedly the warnings of several characters are ignored because they are homeless or perceived to be. The authorities, in particular, are completely clueless throughout and only make things worse at every turn. Sang-ho Yeon seems to be damning the entire structure of Korean society when the whole zombie outbreak could have been avoided if just one citizen of Seoul had been slightly more caring of an injured old homeless man on the street.
(Not Quite) Drop Dead Gorgeous
Train to Busan improves on Seoul Station however in the realisation of the zombies themselves. There was something uniquely off-putting about the violent, sudden movements of the live action zombies that are lost somewhat in the animated versions. They’re just not as disturbing.
For the most part, the animation on display are well done. Some of the walking sequences can look a bit strange, and some moments feature a mix of 2D and 3D animation that can be a little disorienting but on the whole it works. Less effective is the constant whimpering from many of the characters in the slightly quieter moments. It’s as if the director felt that he couldn’t have any moment of silence in his film and asked his actors to fill in the gaps.
It’s almost impossible to talk about Seoul Station without talking about its ending, but it’s equally difficult to speak of that ending without ruining the whole film. Let’s just say that the end of the film is incredibly powerful, even more so than Train to Busan. Even some botched editing by the Malaysian censorship board, which left most of the audience scratching their heads at a pivotal scene, couldn’t take away from the shocking denouement.
Seoul Station shows, even more than Train To Busan, that Sang-ho Yeon is a director cable of delivering incredibly engaging stories and is someone worth keeping an eye-on.
An absolute must-see for fans of the Zombie genre.
Starring: Seung-ryong Ryu, Joon Lee, Eun-kyung Shim
Directed by: Sang-ho Yeon
Writer: Sang-ho Yeon