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The highly-acclaimed breakout 2016 box office hit Train to Busan was widely-received as a minor masterpiece of social commentary, blending superbly-paced action with genuine moments of horror. Veering from many in the genre by avoiding outright explaining how the disaster starts, instead picking up after it’s already begun, it left most viewers curious to how the infection originated. Seoul Station, an obvious though not-directly stated prequel to Train to Busan, doesn’t answer that question but does fill in some gaps in a well-made and often disturbing animated film that is now released in North America.
Like Train to Busan, Seoul Station has as much to say about Korean society as it does about the zombies. Taking place amid the underbelly of the city’s large train station where a network of lower levels house a population of homeless and prostitutes, a man with a neck wound stumbles into the public, with some in the crowd noting his condition but dismissing him for his appearance. Not long after, he becomes undead and in a flash, after he attacks, the infection spreads, sweeping through the city leaving the population in chaos. Into this is Hye-Sun (voice of Shim Eun-kyung), a young woman separated from her boyfriend and her father, and as the three try to find each other, it’s a battle to stay alive in a nightmare come to life.
Written and directed by Sang-ho Yeon, who co-wrote and directed Train to Busan, Seoul Station is feature length and while it might not have the budget behind it that its live action counterpart had, Yeon nonetheless delivers a surprisingly tense and visually-stunning experience that is equally sharp in its views on society. While knowledge of Korean culture or social standards are not needed, it is easy to connect that Yeon is comparing the creatures in his film with the public opinion of the homeless, let alone, once again, taking aim at Korea’s response to and handling of crisis. A scene where cops and citizens face off is a taunt moment of panic where no one seems to know what to do as those with authority await word from higher ups that hesitate. What happens next is even more terrifying and it becomes clear that zombies aren’t the only monsters.
The animation style is a muted palette of earth tones and sickly shades of greens and yellow – with Hye-Sun’s little pink dress an exception – that grows darker as the story progresses. The environments and cityscapes are beautifully drawn while the people are equally well-designed, having a much more ‘animated’ look about them with pronounced expressions of fear and anger. The Korean voice work (the film is English subtitled) is terrific and if you know anything about Korean cinema, you’ll recognize many themes of jarring violence and drama.
Seoul Station uses a zombie outbreak as a backdrop and narrative device for a far more personal story, one that isn’t fully revealed until well into the third act. It’s a frightening and distressing turn that like many Korean films, is layered in despair while tinged with hope. For fans of foreign animation, this is an absolute must see and for anyone who was moved by the story of Train to Busan, you can rest assure, Seoul Station delivers. It’s truly impressive.
Seoul Station is available on iTunes here. Watch the trailer below.
Movie description: Seoul Station is 2016 South Korean animated horror film about a zombie attack in downtown Seoul.
Director(s): Sang-ho Yeon
Actor(s): Shim Eun-kyung, Lee Joon, Ryu Seung-ryong
Genre: Horror, Animation