Train to Busan: Zombie film takes S Korea by storm

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Official Cannes promotional posterImage source, Cannes Film Festival
Image caption,
The South Korean zombie thriller premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Snakes on planes are old hat - it's zombies on trains you need to worry about this year.

They are the stars of a new South Korean apocalyptic thriller terrorising audiences and breaking box office records at home and set to open in cinemas across Asia this week.

Director Yeon Sang-ho's adrenaline-filled Train to Busan premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Blood, brains and mayhem all feature prominently as hordes of zombies devour unfortunate passengers trapped on board a bullet train from Seoul.

Image source, Well Go USA
Image caption,
A group of unlucky train passengers in Seoul find themselves at the beginning of a zombie scare

K-Dramas + zombies = Korean blockbuster

Train to Busan is South Korea's first home-grown zombie offering and has already achieved local box office success, taking a record $5.76m (£4.33m) on its opening day in July.

The movie starts off with an innocent enough train journey, until a viral outbreak outside starts to infect passengers on board, turning them into the undead. The Korean government eventually declares a state of emergency and martial law.

Image source, Well Go USA
Image caption,
Korean actor Gong Yoo plays a businessman who boards the bullet train ride to hell with his estranged daughter

At the heart of the chaos is actor Gong Yoo, a typically-workaholic South Korean businessman travelling with his estranged daughter, oblivious to the unfolding apocalypse.

The monsters are fast, really fast, and their attacks lightning speed, putting their Hollywood counterparts from World War Z to shame.

Equally terrifying is the infection and the rate at which it spreads rapidly between those unlucky enough to be trapped onboard as the high-speed train races to its final destination.

To young Koreans like student Hahn Kwan-woo, 23, it is the film they have been waiting for.

"Western films featuring zombies have always been huge hits in our country and there was not a single Korean zombie movie until 'Train to Busan' came out," he said.

"Many of my favourite actors also star in the movie."

It may have all the predictable elements of a zombie story, but aficionados have also praised the film's uniquely South Korean take on the genre.

"With a Mers epidemic [Middle East respiratory syndrome] sweeping South Korea in 2015 and soaring discontent with corruption and economic disparity, a zombie apocalypse serves as a potent allegory for the dog-eat-dog world," film critic Maggie Lee explained in one review.

Stunning visual and special effects and "lean, gritty" screenplay also could not have hurt its chances of domestic success.

Other critics praised the "brilliant" choice of setting on a Korean bullet train.

"I even have a friend who loved it because she takes the same train every time she goes home," said Mr Hahn.

Image source, Well Go USA

But timing was also key, due to the appetite for summertime horror movies, said Jean Lee, a journalist and Wilson Center Global Fellow who also teaches Korean culture and film courses.

"South Korean horror films really took off in the late 1990s and 'Train to Busan' is a new twist on the horror genre," she told BBC News from Seoul.

"Most horror movies here are released in the summer, when the heat and humidity send people into air-conditioned theatres for movies that quite literally send a chill up their spines."

Image source, Well Go USA
Image caption,
Fans of the film praised the cinematography as well as the show's strange plot twist

Apocalyptic love

Of course the best part about zombie movies is getting to see the best and worst of humanity, as the world comes to an end.

"'Train to Busan': Best zombie scare ever. This is coming from someone who can't even watch 'The Walking Dead'," wrote one fan on Twitter, referencing the popular US drama series.

Some even proclaimed it the "best zombie movie" they have ever seen.

Image source, Well Go USA
Image caption,
For zombie fans in Korea, one can't get more Korean than travelling during the apocalypse on a bullet train to Seoul

Fans like 24-year-old Oh Won-heo hope the movie will propel home-grown horror films to an international audience.

"When people mention Asian horror, they think of Japan. But Korean horror tales are truly frightening and I hope 'Train to Busan' will make the world realise that our local movies are just as scary - or even better."

However, he added: "For my sake, I hope Hollywood will not ruin it with a remake."

On that point he may be out of luck - European and US film studios are already reported to be vying to make their own version.

Train to Busan opens in the UK on 28 October