Train to Busan (2016)

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Director: Sang-ho Yeon

Stars: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jeong

Zombies on a train

Zombie films have been hitting our screens since the dawn of time. Well, it certainly feels like they have anyway. Popularised by George A Romero’s terrific Dead trilogy, zombie films have since been rearing their heads like hordes of the undead themselves. Whilst they can be a lot of fun, more often than not, they can also be cliché ridden and trashy. We have had some quite enjoyable zombie films recently such as, Cockneys Vs Zombies and The Horde but we haven’t really had a properly great zombie movie since 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Train to Busan changes that.

I saw Train to Busan on a whim. I’m travelling in Singapore and had a few free days so I thought that I’d check what’s on the cinemas here. Train to Busan caught my eye but I had never heard of it, however I saw that it was Korean and that it had zombies in it, so I was sold! To my surprise, I came out of the cinema having just viewed easily the best zombie film in a decade. Korean films have hardly ever let me down and Busan is no exception.

As there’s very little coverage of this film on the Internet, I’d better give a rough plot outline. It basically follows a selfish father who is cold and neglectful towards his cute young daughter. For her birthday, she wants to travel to Busan to see her mother so he reluctantly takes her on the train to Busan (creative title) however, a rather inconvenient zombie outbreak occurs as they board the train. The rest of the film is a claustrophobic and thrilling fight for survival as the survivors desperately try everything in their measure to get to Busan on a undead-infested train.

What makes this film so great is the characters. Most horror films (particularly ones with zombies in) sprinkle a load of disposable characters in who all die in a predictable order. We don’t often particularly care when they die, in fact we’re more likely to relish the gory death shown in all its bloody gory. In contrast, Train to Busan focuses in on a line of memorable characters who we actually care about and want to see survive. They’re developed in such a way that when someone cruelly perishes, we feel a great sense of loss and emotion. This is where the film’s strength lies. What’s also interesting is that they’re not all stereotypes either. The protagonist isn’t your typical hero, he’s a character who is grossly selfish and unlikable at the start, but he subtlety develops into someone you begin to care about and admire.


The film starts off as a good little zombie thriller. There’s a sense of realism to the whole situation as we’re made to watch the panic unfold on the train in an effective way. There’s also a nice comic touch to the whole thing with some witty dialogue so it never takes itself too seriously. It also somehow never gets boring even though the film is essentially two hours set on a train, which is no easy task. There’s always tension and a sense of peril. You get the feeling that anything could happen to these characters at any given moment. Once the film reaches the mid-way point though it stops being good and starts becoming great.

Things get going fairly quickly so the characters develop through the action, making the film all the more gripping as it goes on. It’s an unpredictable ride with lots of thrilling set-pieces to keep you on edge. The final half hour is essentially non-stop action and it becomes exhausting to watch without ever feeling too ridiculous. What really impressed me though was the emotional charge in the second half. There are a few scenes which had me welling up with tears, which I wasn’t expecting. I just got so absorbed in the characters and their intense situation. The use of music and editing is also hugely effective in pulling at your heartstrings.


There’s really very little which Train to Busan does wrong. If I were to nitpick, I’d say that I would’ve liked more gore. Zombie films always give a good excuse to give us an array of fun, gory effects but this film is surprisingly restrained. There’s a lot of hand-to-hand combat and nothing else creative. However, this does sort of add to the realism of the situation as you’re not going to find many axes or chainsaws on a train. It’s still not as bloodless as World War Z.

I can’t urge you enough to watch Train to Busan, especially if you’re a fan of Korean cinema. It doesn’t just offer plenty of nail-biting thrills and impressive special effects, It offers emotion and splendid characters whom you can properly invest in. It’s a powerful film which wears its heart on its sleeve and contains more character development in two hours than The Walking Dead has in six seasons. Once the film was over I became overcome with emotion. I felt like I could just break down and cry at what I had just watched. This is so much more than a zombie flick, at its heart it’s a devastating drama about family and the importance of human kindness. I loved it.

nine-out-of-ten

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Director: George Miller

Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nicholas Hoult

It’s nice to see that George Miller has mellowed in his old age

Slow, uneventful, boring, and subtle. These are some of the words you’d never hear from any sane person describing Mad Max 4. Before I dig deeper I should probably let you know that I’m a twenty year-old man who only recently watched the original Mad Max trilogy, so I don’t have any nostalgia attached to them. The first Mad Max film is genuinely considered mediocre by most people apart from proud Aussies, and my opinion was pretty much the same. It didn’t leave a particularly lasting impression. I was under the impression that it was some sort of hardcore revenge movie, but the revenge part only happened in the final underwhelming twenty minutes. The rest of the film was spent titting about in a underdeveloped post-apocalyptic Australia.

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The Road Warrior, however, is generally considered as one of the greatest action movies of all time. I was expecting a full-on action fest (much like Fury Road) but unfortunately what I got was a ponderous seventy minutes involving Max titting about with a colony of people protecting fuel before ending with a spectacular car chase. I was quite disappointed and can name several older action films that are far better than The Road Warrior (Terminator 2 and Hard Boiled to name two). Beyond Thunderdome is generally considered as the worst of the lot but to my pleasant surprise I actually enjoyed this the most out of the trilogy! It might have something to do with me being a massive Tina Turner fan, but I thought there was more action and better characters than the other two films.

After being largely underwhelmed by the Mad Max trilogy, I had my expectations for Fury Road lowered. Pretty much every review I’ve read has been astonishingly glowing with many hailing it as one of the best action films of all time, but didn’t they say that about The Road Warrior? Fury Road is directed by the same George Miller, a man now in his seventies who hasn’t directed an action film since Beyond Thunderdome and whose recent credits include Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City, Mad Max 4 is bound to be pretty weak, right? Wrong.

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Believe the hype. Mad Max: Fury Road is an incredible feat. I have no idea how George Miller managed to pull out something so utterly spectacular out of his bag. Fury Road is the best action film I’ve seen since The Raid and has some of the best stunt work since The Dark Knight Rises. In my opinion it leaves the original Mad Max trilogy lying face down in the dust. Fury Road is the great big throbbing war machine whilst the original trilogy is more like some old rusty bicycle. The first ten minutes of Fury Road is far better than anything from Mad Max 1-3 and the entire two hour film definitely contains far more action than the first three films put together.

It opens with an epic monologue from our new Max, Tom Hardy. Mel Gibson never did anything for me as Max. In fact, the character of Max never did much for me. I much prefer Tom Hardy as Max. His accent may be as muddled as Stu’s tan in Mrs. Doubtfire but I think he has much more of a presence than Mel Gibson ever did. His famous interceptor is destroyed within the first five minutes which is obviously symbolic. Just like James Bond getting shot in the opening of Skyfall and a TV exploding in the opening of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, the interceptor getting totalled represents a new era of Mad Max. George Miller has completely cut the ties from the original films and quite rightly so!

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I mentioned before that the opening ten minutes of Fury Road is better than anything from the original trilogy and it really is! We get thrown into a huge world and feel fully immersed. The imagery is impressive and epic. It feels like something from Lord of the Rings with some powerful masked weirdo sitting on a giant cliff and spilling gallons of water to his loyal pale-painted followers. The villain in Fury Road is basically Aunty Entity on acid and curiously similar to Tom Hardy’s very own Bane. He’s a brilliantly memorable villain who has his very own breast milk farm and an army of seriously sexy wives.

It occurred to me about three quarters of a way through the film that I actually cared about the characters on the screen, which I’ve never felt before during a Mad Max film (apart from Tina of course). The action still comes first, but there’s still some character development to keep you interested in the, admittedly thin plot. Some have complained that Charlize Theron’s Furiosa character takes over from Max but that didn’t bother me at all. I love strong female characters and Furiosa is definitely that! I cared about the clan of oddballs and their goal. I cared enough, anyway, to make me care about who is actually in the action.

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Talking of action. Fury Road’s action sequences are every bit as amazing as you’ve heard. It’s a total intense onslaught of revving action from start to finish. Within the first thirty minutes, we’re plunged into a fiery sandstorm with a furious army of vehicles in hot pursuit. I sat there completely mesmerised by what I was watching. There’s a jarring moment shortly afterwards where Max slowly awakes from a pile of sand and the slowness of the scene is so bloody jarring! At least ninety minutes of Fury Road is just pure full-throttle action. It’s amazingly executed with so little CGI and jaw-dropping stunt work. The final chase sequence is completely exhausting.

Fury Road is eye popping. I felt like Toe Cutter before he collides into a lorry in Mad Max 1 through most of it. Let’s just hope that the sequel will be like The Raid 2. It could easily get better by putting as much focus on character development and plot as well as the action. The Raid 2 did exactly that and produced one of the best films of the twenty first century. As it stands though, Fury Road is a gigantic, towering achievement. You can almost feel the testosterone sweating off the screen. The Fast and Furious franchise can well and truly piss off because this kind of action belongs to the mad.

nine-out-of-ten

The Man From Nowhere (2010)

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Director: Jeong-beom Lee

Stars: Bin Won, Sae-ron Kim, Tae-hoon Kim

Seek this out somewhere!

I don’t want to bore you with a long list of Korean films I love, but it’s important for you to know that I love Korean films. My favourite is probably I Saw the Devil, so you can imagine my excitement when I sat down to watch The Man From Nowhere (I’ll call it The Man for short). With Korea’s incredible reputation in films The Man had a lot to live up to and it didn’t disappoint. The Man demonstrates why Korean film’s are so good in its opening half hour or so as it zooms in on a very touching (but not fake) relationship between a pawnshop man and a little girl who’s mother is a heroin addict and altogether bad mother! This relationship is so cockles-warming and cute you can’t help but be sucked into these characters.

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I would guess that the American remake (which will inevitably arrive) will feature a Mum with shelves full of ‘Mom of the Year’ awards and the man (I’ll call him the man as I’m quite bad at Korean names) will probably be a taintless guy who saves orphanages and adores kids. However it’s the character’s flaws that make them interesting, realistic and altogether more likable for it. The man isn’t the nicest person in the world, however he has great qualities and its enough to make the audience like him. It turns out that he becomes even more bad-ass than Liam Neeson and Bruce Willis put together!

I’ve heard this film being compared to Taken and Oldboy, but really this film is much, much better than Taken (and I loved Taken!) but not Oldboy, however it’s not that far off Oldboy’s greatness! But this just goes to show that foreign cinema is so much better than American (in the majority of cases) as Taken was even directed and written by a Frenchman! The Man however is superior in every way. Its narrative is more complex, and its characters are much stronger, and although it may not be as action-packed as Taken it certainly carries more of an emotional punch.

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I do really want to give The Man a 10/10 but I don’t think it’s right to. The plot did become overly complicated in some parts (especially with all the similar-looking faces) and there were some parts where I was just waiting for some more action to happen, but that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy The Man because I did! At 2 hrs there’s rarely a moment where the film dies down. It’s a fantastic thrill ride which explores some typically dark avenues (it’s Korean!) and you can’t help but appreciate it for having the balls to do so.

There are also some incredible action sequences that are shot almost to perfection. The camera is extremely quick but never does it make you feel disorientated as to what is going on. These action scenes are more up to Ip Man standards, which if you haven’t seen Ip Man is very high! There’s a hugely entertaining and tense fight scene in the men’s toilets and it just leaves me wishing that there were more. However, The Man is so much more than just an action film. Its got a huge heart and brain to match! The directing is terrific and quite mesmerising at times. One stand out moment features a smash through a two-storey window all in one shot!

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All of this thrilling narrative culminates into a stupendously entertaining climax that almost feels as cool as Kill Bill! It’s an action extraveganzer (hard word to spell) full of incredible directing and superbly choreographed fight sequences with quite a bit of blood too! It’s a rip-roaring revenge rampage which is quite incredible to watch! The ending, however, is even more impressive. It’s quite simply one of the most touching endings I’ve ever seen with a great use of music that really pulls at the heart strings. I had chills, and those chills took a while to leave after the credits had rolled, as it just created such an emotional impact that is quite hard to top.

The Man is quite simply another Korean masterpiece. Its storyline might not be all that original but its characters and intricate plot points shoot it up into matching the greatness of The Chaser. The Man excels in its wonderful characters and huge heart. Yes some parts could’ve been simpler, but its a film I can’t wait to see again, which certainly can’t be a bad thing, can it? It rivals most American films and you’ll need the hardest heart in the world, not to be touched by the knock-out ending. A truly mesmerising film!

nine-out-of-ten

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Director: Matt Reeves

Stars: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell

A Hollywood sequel to a rebooted prequel which is actually good!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens with a lovely sequence which carries on where the first one left off. It shows a virus spreading all over the globe and wiping out the whole human race with a lovely melancholic piano score playing over the top. It’s a nice gentle way to open which is juxtaposed by an extreme close-up of mad monkey, Caesar leading an attack on a bunch of deer. Dawn is one of those rare things to come out of Hollywood. A good sequel. What makes it even more extraordinary is that it’s a sequel for a rebooted franchise which usually spells failure. They could’ve easily made some effects-driven run-of-the-mill action film and have made more than their money back, but they’ve actually delivered good quality stuff with memorable characters and a lot of heart. dawndark Some people have expressed a dislike of the film being Monkey-centric, but I actually preferred that. Who’s to say that you can feel emotional for a monkey like you can a human? To be honest, the weakest element of the film is the humans. The human characters play a fairly big role, but they’re just not that interesting. Gary Oldman’s character was probably the most interesting, but he was hardly in it unfortunately. Also, on a side-note. Has it become customary for Gary Oldman to where his commissioner Gordon glasses in every blockbuster he stars in? Gary may lack the distinction of his talented sister, Laila Morse, but he carries a wonderful presence whenever he takes up what little screen time he has. The main family of humans are more annoying though and don’t really develop much as characters. Kodi-Smit Mcphee (vampire boy all grown up) for example, just plods around with a sullen look on his face which is reminiscent of the hormonal Carl in, The Walking Dead. Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes-6 But let’s not get too bogged down in that, because Dawn has far more good points than bad. Caesar has really developed as a character and Andy Serkis (who has made a name for himself in playing angry monkeys) makes him a really compelling character to watch. Whoopi Goldberg has suggested that he should be Oscar nominated, and I wouldn’t disagree with that! Serkis becomes a monkey and it’s seamless to watch. The scenes featuring Caesar’s family are far more moving and emotive than the human’s. His sick wife doesn’t even speak (or should I say, sign?) but you can see the pain behind her eyes, and the way it affects Caesar is beautiful to watch. Koda also makes a fascinating villain. Whilst his character does descend into cartoonish villain clichés, his downward spiral is done in a fairly convincing way.

You can’t write a review for Dawn without mentioning the fantastic special effects. They’re sure to win awards because the amount of detail is just breath-taking to watch. They look like proper apes! Dawn is a very visual film. At the end of the day, in a blockbuster, whilst characters and plot are still important we do also just want to see some explosions. What’s nice about Dawn is that it does put characters and plot before action, so there’s over an hour of build-up before the sugar hits the fan, but that just makes the action all the more effective to watch. The apes storming the human camp on horses, with machine guns, may sound ridiculous but on film it just looks fantastic! In fact, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is directed rather wonderfully. It was clear to see that Matt Reeves was a talented man from Let Me In, which didn’t just plainly rip-off it’s original (although supremely better) text. The action isn’t shot in an annoying way and you can see what’s going on. I especially liked the OTT final ‘boss fight’ which pitches Caesar against Koda in a most spectacular way. There’s a also a lovely 360 degree shot on top of a tank which soaks in the chaos which is happening on-screen. dawnfly At the end of the day, Dawn is fun. It’s good quality entertainment which you can happily watch more than once. It’s far better and more ambitious than its predecessor, which was good, but felt more like a warm-up for greater things. Dawn is that greater thing and all signs suggest that the third (and hopefully final) segment could be the best yet! Let’s hope that the filmmakers don’t get too greedy and start milking this franchise for all its worth. Also, does anyone else find it slightly insane (but fabulous) that one of the most successful franchises features talking apes? Roll on the sequel, which I predict will be simply called, The Planet of the Apes, which would be awesome, but also confusing. P.S. I’ve just realised that I’ve called ‘Koba’, ‘Koda’ throughout this review. I am sorry, but it’s a stupid name anyway.

eight-out-of-ten

The Raid 2 (2014)

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Director: Gareth Evans

Stars: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra

Action has reached a new standardAnd it’s bloody high!

The Raid 2 is quite simply one of the greatest action films ever made. In fact, if someone said to me that The Raid 2 is THE greatest action film ever made, I wouldn’t argue with them. It completely blows the first Raid out of the water and somewhere into the stratosphere. In fact, Gareth Evans has swung a huge bloody baseball bat and knocked The Raid into oblivion. And I loved The Raid. When most sequels come out (mostly rubbish ones) there’s usually a tagline saying, “twice as funny” or “twice as thrilling” and if The Raid 2’s tagline was something along those lines it would still be a lie, because The Raid 2 is ten times better than the first Raid in just about every way that’s possible. Better story, better directing, better characters, better writing, better action, better choreography and the list goes on… The Raid 2 is the best sequel since The Dark Knight.

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It does what every good sequel (e.g. Terminator 2, The Godfather Part II) does and doesn’t simply tell the same story with a bigger budget like most sequels, but creates a brand new story which improves upon the original’s that makes it a standalone film and not just “the second one”. One of the few complaints I had for The Raid was that it had a thin plot, yet it showed positive signs of character development, which could’ve improved the film if Gareth tried to focus on that more. Here, the plot comes first and quite rightly so in my opinion. The Raid 2 is incredibly tightly plotted with rich characters who you’ll care about and thus, making the action that much more thrilling. Oh, and talking of the action.

The action in The Raid 2 is nothing short of astounding. In my opinion it beats the action sequences in the first on, thanks to the terrific and memorable set-pieces which Gareth Evans creates. These are some of the best action sequences I have ever seen on film. The directing is even stronger here, as Gareth gets more creative with where he puts the camera and how he movies it. At one point the camera follows a man as he jumps through a window and it’s immense fun to watch. Instead of tight close-ups and frenetic editing (like in most Hollywood action movies) Gareth follows the action in longer takes and it’s all the more intense for it, as we can actually see what’s going on, as well as feel the carnage. And there is a lot of carnage.

I’d go as far to say that The Raid 2 is the most violent film I’ve ever seen. It has serious balls and it isn’t afraid to show ‘em! Some serious brutality is shown pretty relentlessly and it would probably be too much for most mainstream audiences, but for hardcore lovers of the cinematic macabre, then the experience is utter bliss. You’d expect to be desensitised after 150 minutes of brutality, but you don’t! Even at the all-action finale, you still feel every brutal hit and bone breakage. People are slammed with hammers and baseball bats, whilst others have their legs twisted and throats slit. What’s more incredible is the way Gareth shoots this carnage. It’s just shot in the most hypnotic and balletic way and is even reminiscent of John Woo’s, The Killer. The choreography is also outstanding.

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But amongst this incredible action is a rich plot concerning the dark life of the mafia. Rama’s gone undercover and befriended the son of a seriously powerful boss. Every scene is full of tension as you Rama could get found out at any moment. Just like in The Godfather, I found myself being sucked into the lives of these fascinating criminals. In fact, some of the best scenes in The Raid 2 feature no action at all. Whether it’s intense discussions with mafia bosses, or a tension-fuelled encounter with some prostitutes, The Raid 2 has a brilliant and tightly wound screenplay which makes its 150 minute running time fly by.

The directing throughout is nothing short of masterful. It has the look of a crime classic, and there are some of the cinematography is just breath-taking. You feel the power of these people through every shot and every shot carries meaning. There is also some brilliant use of music. One of my favourite scenes is when Rama has been shown to his apartment by the power hungry son of the mafia boss he has befriended. Rama puts on loud, sinister music and phones the police chief to reveal his anger and fear. He then puts his finger in his ear to drown out the loud music as he phones his wife for the first time and the music changes to something softer and emotionally charged. It’s a powerful moment and is masterfully executed.

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The finale is simply mesmerising. It harks back to the first film as it’s basically a series of unbelievably amazing fight scenes, only this time there’s a greater weight to them as they mean so much to the plot and characters in the film. I adored the intense battle with hammer girl and baseball boy, as well as the epic kitchen fight which feels like it’s going on forever. They make the Mad Dog fight at the end of the first film look like a warm-up exercise!

The Raid 2 is far more than a sequel needs to be. It’s much bigger and much better, which is saying a lot because the first film was absolutely brilliant. It takes a gigantic dinosaur-sized poo on mainstream action films which people seem to love like, Fast Five. This is how an action film is done. It’s also full of excellently realised characters and features an intelligent screenplay. The action is the best ever committed to film and even features probably the best car chase ever. I was overwhelmed with what I saw and I can’t wait to see it again. If The Raid 3 is any improvement on this, then it will end up being the greatest action film ever. Perhaps if Evans is given a gigantic budget, he could pull off a conclusion as epic as The Dark Knight Rises. We live in hope.perfect-10