zombies and men


Presented out of competition at Cannes in May 2016, Last train to Busan surprises. It is about zombies invading a train launched on the line connecting Seoul to Busan, the largest city on the coast. The director, Yeon Sang-ho, is from animated cinema (The King of Pigs, 2011). He retains the elliptical sense of the sketch, a way of painting characters and situations in a few sure and effective strokes, which joins the lean art of the B series. An embodied management of the stereotype allows him to skillfully juggle a large number of characters. Here, we don’t bother with explanations, we move forward.

The opening sets the context for a mysterious epidemic in two stages: a health barrier, a biochemical factory, a deer carcass that comes back to life. The story follows in the footsteps of a divorced trader who accompanies his little girl by train to her mother. Then redeploys towards the passengers, a constituent panel of Korean society (a middle-class couple, high school students from a baseball team, retirees, an unscrupulous business manager, a tramp…). An infected woman jumps on the train as the doors close and soon turns many of the passengers into a horde of aggressive zombies.

Fratricidal conflict

The train is then the runaway of the cinema machine launched at high speed. Without fundamentally renewing the post-apocalyptic genre, Yeon Sang-ho goes all out: scene after scene, he installs a series of playful rules that govern the survival of the characters and multiply the stakes.

The train is also a fantasy image of Korean society. In the clash between humans and zombies, we can see a resurgence of the fratricidal conflict that was the Korean War – the film also takes on a particular resonance when we know that it was in Busan that, in September 1950, the forces of the South suffered the first assaults of the Communists. The virus acts as a dissolution of individuality, thanks to a gregarious and massed behavior, that of a zombie people – in which we can recognize the North Korean tyranny, passed through the filter of horror.

The train has yet another meaning, this time social. The survivors are distributed, in this compartmentalized space, like so many social classes, and they will have to unite to go back to the leading cars, selfishly occupied by the most privileged. Which reminds Snowpiercer, the Transperceneige (2013), by Bong Joon-ho.

The fight, then, is no longer directed so much against the zombies, a sort of lumpenproletariat reduced to its lowest instincts, as towards the reconquest of the elementary gestures of mutual aid, collaboration, concern for others, which life had imperceptibly numbed. before the disaster.

Last train to Busan, by Yeon Sang-ho. With Gong Yoo, Ma Dong-seok, Jeong Yu-mi, Kim Su-an (Cor., 2016, 118 min).