By now any self-respecting zombie fanatic, survivalist anticipating the zombie apocalypse, will have jumped aboard the Train To Busan and noted that South Korea probably ain’t the best place to be visiting when the dead start to rise. If you need further proof on that particular fact you can see just when the epidemic started as director Yeon Sang-ho documented proceedings with his animated prequel Seoul Station.
I’m not sure that we ever grow out of animation although anyone sitting through things the kids of today are hooked on like Adventure Time without feeling like their heads are going to explode may contest. Horror animation is a real hit and miss affair though. Kings are without a doubt the Japanese who’s Manga Anime really put things on the map and anyone who ate up features from that stable can no doubt both spell and pronounce words such as Urotsukidoji faultlessly. Attacked by demon wombs in Wicked Cities was all par-of-the course and these splatterific slices of dementia are the sort of films that could never translate successfully to live action! The zombie infection is only very fleetingly seen in animated films however and in my opinion at least up until now everything particularly begins and ends with Frank Sudol’s City Of Rott (2006). I am aware there are others out there such as awful Night Of The Living Dead gone animated but what I saw before hitting the off button and swearing at the screen profusely seemed like nothing more than a bad video game gone wrong. So as far as I was concerned Seoul Station came as a breath of rotting air and something a little different from the hundreds of other zombie flicks I voraciously devour.
Don’t go into this expecting mayhem from the off the film starts slowly and builds up characters from an unlikely place. It is the down and outs and derelicts who shuffle unseen by most margins of society that we focus on here. An old man staggers through commuters bleeding and it looks like he has been bitten in the neck. He shuffles off to lie down and breathe shallowly amidst the other twilight denizens who are there down on their luck. A friend who annoyingly refers to him as his ‘bro’ all the time goes off in search of help but nobody seems to be willing to come to his aid. Elsewhere a couple on the brink of poverty are close to being evicted and desperately the boyfriend attempts to get her back to her old ways on the game and pimp her out. Throwing her on the street he is appropriated by her father and as the dead start to get up and get bitey they form an unlikely alliance looking for her.
There are two main zombie conventions to consider in all films of the genre and that is fast or slow. Love it or loathe it in all its anatomical incredulity but these are the fast variety. I just find the whole speedy zombie a bit too much; I mean at least with the slow ones you have a chance but the second these bastards hear you they are after you like flies on shit and they are all the more terrifying with it. Having drawn you in, this spits you out somewhat violently and it doesn’t become a simple two way battle but with the police and military getting involved there are three distinct factions. The social political context sits in the frame like an elephant in the room, there’s no avoiding it and one gets the impression here that Sang-ho is a bit of a dissident director and has part used the film’s narrative as a chance to attack the societal ills around him. This is very much an us-vs them scenario film but the living dead don’t care one iota about going just for the 99-percenters and there’s no discrimination as far as they are concerned.
In this respect Seoul Station did succeed for me and I like the way that it doesn’t pull punches and reacts in a true to life (and death) fashion, which is one that will probably be the same throughout the world if (when) this sort of shit goes down. It doesn’t try and explain how the outbreak started; something we have learned is not at all a necessary plot convention within the genre. The one criticism I would have and it is the same for older Manga films is that the characters seem to be wildly over exaggerated and if this was not animated they would convey the worst over-acting ever seen as they blubber, wail, gnash teeth and wring hands about the situation they find themselves in. It’s a wonder they last more than 5 minutes the racket they make and this is a little trying.
The way the film is animated scenario wise is perfect, it has a real crepuscular cast to the way the station and environment is lit, almost pastel hued rather than glaring neon and that works particularly well. Strong colours such as red seem muted which possibly isn’t what you are looking for if you want a gore-feast but that aspect here also seems on the whole quite restrained. It doesn’t matter if you have not seen Train To Busan and it’s not a problem if like many, due to release order, if you have seen it prior to this prequel. All in all, well worth a watch. Extras on disc a short making of featurette.
Release date: digital download 27th March, DVD and Blu-Ray 3rd April 2017