Right from its release, Train to Busan has gained fame and recognition that were fully deserved. It’s cemented itself almost immediately as one of the best movies of the horror renaissance of the last few years and brought with it the possibility of expanding its narrative universe with two more works, one that precedes and one that follows it: Seoul Station and Peninsula. However, Train to Busan‘s immediate success might not have been enough to guarantee that its prequel and sequel maintained the same level of quality.
Over the next week, we’ll try to examine the elements of this narrative universe one by one – starting from Seoul Station, which was made before Train to Busan but only released widely in cinemas after the success of the latter – and see if we can find what they have in common and what they don’t.
An animated movie that tells us what happened before the events of Train to Busan, Seoul Station pulls us into a Seoul where a man desperately looks for his daughter who has run away from home while on the background of the city, the government struggles to contain a deadly zombie infection.
If there’s something that Seoul Station, Train to Busan and Peninsula share – aside from the director – it’s the narrative universe in which they take place.
All three movies are set in a South Korea that has fallen victim to a sudden zombie outbreak, but also a Korea where this epidemic is greatly exacerbated by the classism and egoism that pervade the stories of the protagonists of each of these films.
Seoul Station and class relations
Despite the fact that the subject is brushed upon in all three of the movies, Seoul Station is definitely the one where it is most evident and in which the inequalities between the social classes that make up the fabric of the city become the centrepiece of the entire story.
This animated movie was made before Train to Busan and, whereas the latter is completely and utterly an action-horror film, Seoul Station‘s objective is instead to provide a social commentary on how people at the margins of society are treated in South Korea.
It’s evident from the first minutes and from the choice of protagonists that the entire movie is based on this. The story, in fact, mainly follows the life of a young woman who we find out has previously been forced into prostitution as the only means of survival after running away from home, and the journey of her father who is trying to find her.
The protagonists are the ideal guide into a Seoul where the zombie outbreak is also made worse by the prejudice and classism that permeates the society around them.
The first victim of the outbreak that we meet is a homeless man whose sudden and violent symptoms are only taken seriously by a friend who is in the same situation of poverty and it is abundantly and immediately clear that if the illness didn’t end up becoming a danger for society in its entirety, the man’s death wouldn’t make anyone outside of his social sphere bat an eye.
If the man we mentioned is the one who jumpstarts the conflict of the story, the person who guides us through it is primarily Hye-Sun (voiced by Shim Eun-kyun), a young woman who, as we already said, finds herself in poverty and without a place to sleep and ends up in the streets of Seoul after breaking up with her boyfriend who wants to force her back into prostitution.
Although Seoul Station wants to tell us about a problem that is much bigger than its characters, the story still tries to make us root for Hye-Sun while she fights for her survival during the epidemic. And it succeeds, too.
Throughout the entire movie, our hope to see Hye-Sun and her father reunited again grows and we end up rooting for her survival and for her father’s success up until the unexpected ending.
Even though before the last plot twist we end up developing some affection for the young protagonist, there is a feeling of passiveness that Hye-Sun can’t seem to shed for the whole movie. Scene after scene, the young woman keeps making stupider and stupider choices and demonstrates a kind of inactivity that very often pushes her right to the most extreme edge of danger. All of this culminates in a frustration for the viewer that makes it difficult to keep up any solidarity the movie tries so hard to build.
Style and ending
If there’s one thing that manages to redeem Seoul Station, it’s the ending. Genuinely unexpected but not in a nonsensical way like so often seems to happen with plot twists, the ending to Seoul Station succeeds in giving us a small victory even though it is very different from the one the viewer had stopped hoping for during the movie.
Hye-Sun succeeds in making up for even just a few of the injustices of her life. All of this, though, not before causing extremely negative consequences to the people around her with her inaction.
I would like to be able to say that, despite a story that I didn’t find very exciting, the style of the movie was enough to keep my eyes on the screen but, unfortunately, that is not the case.
Even though I know that, used as I am to a western type of animation, the art style of the movie irks me in part for that reason, there is also the fact that the animation itself is nothing short of visually unpleasant. The gestures are overdone and inconsistent, the action looks artificial and robotic, and all of it comes with an artistic style that I cannot find any other word to describe than ugly and a story that ultimately makes you think you just wasted an hour and forty minutes of your life, becoming a recipe for fustration and disappointment which are all that the movie leaves you with.
Train to Busan
In the next article, we’ll take a look at the second movie of this trio, Train to Busan, and at some of the things that differentiate it from Seoul Station.