[A Look Back On Korea's 'Cheonman Movie' #11] 'Train to Busan'

/ 2021-10-10 10:59:35
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by Ra Hwank Jin/ Lee Hyo Yoon


[Episode 11] 'Train to Busan' (2016 Directed by Yeon Sang-ho)


▲ This image, provided by Korea Film Council, shows the poster for the film "Train to Busan." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap) 




“Train to Busan,” released in July 2016 and produced by director Yeon Sang-ho, is said to have opened the new chapter of Korean zombie films. The film surpassed 5 million audiences in 5 days of release. In total, this whole new zombie movie accumulated 11.56 million audiences and became Korea’s 12th most popular film.


Before its official release, it was first screened in the Cannes Film Festival Midnight Screenings, one of the festival’s non-competing divisions. The watchers applauded on their feet for 5 minutes after the film’s ending and Thieery Frémaux, the director of the Cannes Film Festival, praised director Yeon and the actors saying, “It was the best Midnight Screening ever.”


The amazing film succeeded in adapting zombie genre, which was considered as a Western possession, into Korean style. Especially, “Train to Busan” featured new model of zombies like the ones in “World War Z” (2013) running towards the prey instead of the traditional ones slouching with their arms drooping. This type of zombies continued in other contents such as Netflix series “Kingdom” and film “#Alive,” and later became a typical Korean style zombie.  



▲ This photo shows director Yeon Sang-ho. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap) 


◇ From animations to live-action zombie films…director Yeon Sang-ho


 “Train to Busan” was director Yeon’s first full-length live-action film. The director usually produced social animations such as “The King of Pigs” (2011) portraying the conflict between social classes through a middle school first grader’s life, “The Window” (2012) dealing with abuses in the army force and “The Fake” (2013) pointing out the danger and delusion of blinded belief.  


Yeon gained the basis of Korean animations as he was invited to the Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight with his debut production, “The King of Pigs,” a full-length animation. But since “Train to Busan,” he seems to have changed his focus to live-action filmsdrams such as “Psychokinesis” (2018), “Peninsula” (2020) and Netflix series “Hellbound” (2021).


“He has his own editing points and structures clearly plotted out in his head. There were some times when the shooting finished earlier than expected and the actors were worried about it at first,” said Gong Yoo, who played the main role for “Train to Busan.”  


“I want deliver stories that I personally want to say through animations and want to talk about stories more comfortably acceptable to the public through live-action films,” said Yeon on an interview after the zombie movie’s successful release.


Yeon was somewhat negative about producing a sequel after the film’s release but directed for “Peninsula” in 2020 which is almost a sequel 4 years after “Train to Busan.” But “Peninsula” only copied the basic sets from “Train to Busan” and the two stories don’t connect.


The director has produced a series “Hellbound,” a story of humans suddenly encountering creatures from hell. It has raised people’s interest having revealed episodes 1~3 at Busan International Film Festival. It will be released on Netflix on Nov. 19.




▲ This photo shows actor Ma Dong-seok. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap) 


◇ Zombies that moved to Korea


“Train to Busan” shows various faces in extreme crisis through characters such as a father (Gong Yoo) and husband (Ma Dong-seok) who sacrifice their lives for their daughter and wife and a despicable man (Kim Eui-sung) who pushes others to the zombies for his survival.


But the real main character here is the zombies. The film’s great success can be said to have largely credited to the zombies’ realistic and unawkward actions.


For such vivid actions, the director said that he looked up a wide range of data from Hollywood zombie productions to break dancing videos and animations featuring ball jointed dolls to examine the joints twisting.


“I watched break dances twisting or snapping their joints and looked closely into the ball jointed doll’s movements in a Japanese animation “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.” Of course, I watched zombie films such as “Dawn of the Dead” and “World War Z” as well,” said the director.


Also, dancer Park Jane who took part in producing “The Wailing,” joined “Train to Busan” and created many gestures that well expressed the zombies’ movements.


As for the zombies’ faces, the director wanted them not to look like one. “It gets weirder when we try to put make-ups on the actors only thinking of zombies.”


“Considering that the crowd of zombie-virus infected creatures would have knocked here and there as they were in a narrow space (inside KTX), we asked for the special effect makeup team to make their faces look swollen up like boxers. I looked at the zombies more like a human than a monster,” explained Yeon.



▲ This photo, provided by NEW, the film's production company, shows a scene of Gong Yoo from "Train to Busan." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


◇ Inside KTX train, the fear a narrow, blocked space gives


Like its title, the main stage of the film is inside a KTX train to Busan. The tension the set in which the characters have to fight against zombies in a place cut off from the exterior-world is quite a lot. As both in and out of the train are full of zombies, the characters have no where to run away to. They only wish for their last hope, destination Busan.


The train used in the film was a set installed in a filming studio in Busan. After the film finished shooting, Gijang-gun of Busan and Busan City attempted to purchase the set to turn it into a tourism product but had to bail the plan as the set had to be closed due to problems such as its cost.


However, as the film recorded a gigantic hit beyond imagination, the officials of Busan are said to have regretted.


Instead, Busan City and Busan Tourism Organization came up with tourism products using the film such as giving hotel vouchers to users of KTX train to Busan who chose seats related to the film.


Meanwhile, Korail appointed actor Jeong Seok-yong (47) who played the responsible KTX train’s captain running the vehicle for the passengers to his last moment, as KTX No. 1 honorary captain.




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