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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Fearing the Train to Busan Remake

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Honestly, I’ve been nervous ever since the Train to Busan American remake was announced.

I adored the original so much, and thought that it was my personal treasure that did not need to be tampered with. There were solid performances from actors that I don’t often see in my everyday horror movies. The emotion resonated, revealing that writer/director Yeon-sang has a bond with the story, the world, and the characters.

For those who don’t know, Train to Busan follows Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo), a fund manager who doesn’t spend much time with his daughter Soo-an (Su-an Kim). This is evident when he misses her recital, after which we see that she is overwhelmingly accustomed to his absence. Refusing to spend her birthday alone, Soo-an requests to spend her day with her mom in Busan. Seok-Woo and Soo-an board the KTX 101 at Seoul Station. Among the other passengers are a young baseball team, two elderly sisters, a working-class husband with his pregnant wife, and arrogant businessman. All will soon be exposed to the infected woman who eludes the conductor and boards the train.

With this plot and these performances executed to near perfection, what warrants a remake? I agree that the film could’ve received broader international exposure. I also understand that subtitles and voiceovers can take away from certain viewer’s experiences. But for most of us that watched this version, it only heightened our experience and allowed us to appreciate the characters even more.


Also, there may be the possibility that the studio would like to target a different market than the original reached. I acknowledge that most people outside of Korea who have seen Train to Busan are mainly horror fans. I also know that recent US and International theatrical horror releases have drawn more of a “non-horror” audience, which include many of my acquaintances that refuse to claim being horror fans. But is keeping the original film the original way too much to ask these audiences to accept? Maybe? Maybe not? But I do see it as a problem that we keep answering with the same solution: Water it down for a worldwide audience. I know this solution will guarantee some sort of profit for a studio because a market already exists from the original, but come on.

Additionally, I refuse to be hit with the “we’re just going to enhance the visual effects” mumbo jumbo. The visual effects were already done really well, clearly with visual effects supervisor Hwang-su Jeong nominated for a 2017 Asian Film Award in Best Visual Effects.

Sort of subsiding my angst is a rumor: the remake has been placed in the hands of James Wan and Dan Gauberman from The Conjuring Universe. While I trust both these men with original horror properties, I have yet to see them take on a full remake. The closest property I can think of is The Curse of La Llorana, originating from director Michael Chaves’s marvelous short The Maiden. I haven’t seen the full-length feature yet, but I have read reviews and witnessed the Tomatometer rating of 30%. I’m not sure what happened here, but I fear it will happen to Train to Busan.

And above all, I fear that the emotion of the original Train to Busan will not be captured. There is a clear universe that stems from director Sang-ho’s mind. For example, there is an animated prequel called Seoul Station that Sang-ho directed, wrote, and produced before releasing Train to Busan. Here, the world comes to life. Then in Train to Busan, the characters come to life. And they are fully realized, with skilled actors offering social commentary in the midst of mayhem. Additionally, director Sang-ho was born in Seoul and main actor Gong Yoo was born in Busan. I can understand if solid performances weren’t given from any performers from the region, but this is certainly not the case with this film.


Lastly, let’s not forget that the original just came out a little under three years ago. It is still fresh in people’s minds—and rightly so with Train to Busan being Korea’s top grossing film of 2016 at $83 million locally and $45 million worldwide. I know I personally gave about $40 to this film already—and would happily drop more. Furthermore, writer/director Yeon-sang ho said he will be making a Train to Busan 2, set to release in 2020.

So why should there be a remake? At this point, all I can do is keep my hopes up about the execution because I have been proven wrong before, though not as often as I would’ve hoped for.


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