So as the more observant of you know, I am rather partial to a zombie movie, and I really enjoyed Yeon Sang-ho’s live action debut “Train to Busan” which was a really effective entry into the genre. It took me a little while but I finally got myself a copy of his animated prequel/prologue to his smash hit. I actually haven’t seen his much feted “The Fake” and “The King of Pigs” (Mostly because I am not super into animation, though exceptional exceptions are to be expected here), so this felt like a good point to deleve a little deeper.
“Seoul Station” starts one night with a patient zero of the zombie infection, a homeless man, stumbling to his normal sleeping place in the walkways around Seoul Railway Station. A fellow homeless friend attempts to get aid for his sick buddy, but finds his social status a problem in getting help. Meanwhile a young girl Hye-sun (voiced by the always wonderful Shim Eun-kyung) who has a history with being a homeless runaway has a fight with her loser boyfriend Ki-woong (Lee Joon) over his plan to pimp her out. She walks the streets unaware that an infestation of the undead is about to surround her. Meanwhile her father (Ryu Seung-ryong) finds the lurid adverts of his missing daughter, and catches up with Ki-woong, and the pair go to track her down. Obviously by this time the crap has hit the fan, so they begin a race against time and flesh-eating animated cadavers to rescue her. Adventures are had, the government reacts as a South Korean Government are likely to do, but it is a different kind of horror that ends this deadly night.
It’s not the thrill ride that “Train to Busan” is, but “Seoul Station” is a more than competent entry into the Zombie genre. Whilst most things play out as you would expect in a film of this genre, it does have a good sense of tenseness and escalation in the opening act, followed by a second movement full of threat and tension. Theres some interetsing set pieces, such as a scene set in a local Police Office (if you have seen any number of Korean movies you’ll know exactly what I mean) and another escape done in a way I have never seen before. The animation is interesting, and certainly a fairly unique (it looks almost rotoscoped) style that is a bit strange to see to start with, but one soon gets used to it. Surprisingly it doesn’t get too gory of explicit, even with the potentially unlimited budget afforded to a cast and environment consitsing only of pen and ink. And there’s a reason for that, because Yeon is certainly more interested in Zombie as metaphor.
In “Train to Busan” there was a “Snowpiercer”-feel to proceedings. Whilst it stood up as a very good piece of genre cinema, it was also interested in the social strata of Korean society. “Seoul Station” takes this much further. It clearly makes a connection with the fear of the undead with the fear of the homeless underclass. South Korean confuscian society has a hard time dealing with the unsuccessful and failed member of society, meaning that it takes a long time for most character to really process what is happening, on a both individual and governmental level. It can’t differentiate between the infected and the homeless. Government can only deal with the threat on a single, millitary containment based, level – echoing how it tends to deal with any popular uprising – guns and water cannons. Anyone conversant with fairly modern Korean history will see scenes enacted that are nothing to do with Zombies, but rather popular uprisings.
And all that on it’s own would have made a pretty good film. But “Seoul Station” has a further card to play in the final act. Our three principles find each other, and it seems they may survive the night. But then the actual truth about Hye-sun’s past comes out (which is only hinted at previously and hidden behind the life-threatening situation at hand), and we see that there are monsters in this world that are not the fantasical flesh eating undead.
“Seoul Station” is considered a prologue to “Train to Busan”, but you won’t find any answers to the Live Action film here. They might share a common location (at least as a starting point), and they might share a common overall threat. But “Busan” is a exciting horror movie with social commentary underpinning it, “Seoul” is more of a social critique with a metaphoric threat. One excites. One informs. And I enjoyed them both for different reasons. Highly Recommended!