Seoul Station [BIFAN 2016] – Review

The animated prequel to Train to Busan was the closing film of the 20th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival!...Read More

Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival Asian Premiere & Closing Film

Seoul Station (2016) – 서울역

  • Directed by: Yeon Sang-ho (연상호)
  • Voiced by: Shim Eun-kyung (심은경), Ryu Seung-ryong (류승룡), Lee Joon (이준)
  • Synopsis: One evening at Seoul Sation, an old homeless man is seen devouring another station dweller. Soon, the streets are overrun by zombies eating anything they can get their hands on and the city of Seoul declares martial law. Meanwhile, a runaway teenager named Hye-sun and her boyfriend Ki-woong try to find each other amidst the chaos.
  • Purchase: Normal Edition Region-3 (English Subs) – DVD

Review

Yeon Sang-ho is the visionary director behind the animated films The King of Pigs (2011) and The Fake (2013). Both offer a strong critique of modern Korean society and feature downtrodden characters who bear the brunt of the socially unjust byproducts of their environments. The resulting characters are extremely flawed and atypical protagonists. Following in this tradition, director Yeon’s third feature-length animation, Seoul Station, lives in the darker corners of the modern Korean experience but aims for wider appeal through its zombie narrative. Seoul Station is also the official prequel to Yeon’s first live-action film, Train to Busan.

Korean teen wearing glasses asks his girlfriend for one more favor.

Although somewhat a rare sight in Korea, homeless people are of course present in the city and typically congregate in specific areas. In Seoul, Seoul Station (the actual train station) is considered the epicenter of such gatherings and joked about to be prime real estate among the homeless and mentally disturbed (although a typical visit to the station will offer few encounters). Students and young people often joke about living in Seoul Station as a metaphor for failing in life and their studies. The homeless themselves are very a much marginalized population in Korea and looked down upon by virtually everyone who considers them dirty and inconvenient. This sentiment is ever present at the beginning of Seoul Station, when a homeless man in dire need of medical attention is basically left to die in a pool of his own blood. Unofficially patient zero, and almost seemingly as revenge on an apathetic society, the zombie outbreak commences and begins to grow at exponential rates.

Korean girl is scared by something surrounded by homeless men.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Hye-sun, voiced by Shim Eun-kyung (Miss Granny, 2014), and Ki-woong, voiced by former “MBLAQ” member Lee Joon (Rough Play, 2013), the most dysfunctional teen couple ever who suffer from some unfortunate first world problems. Hye-sun is a runaway who ended up working at a brothel to make money. There, she met her abusive and PC-addicted boyfriend Ki-woong and decided to live with him. To pay the bills, the couple opted for making quick cash by selling Hye-sun’s body through some online postings. Now, fed up with Ki-woong’s deadbeat lifestyle, Hye-sun decides she is through with him and takes off. After the online posting is noticed by a private investigator, Hye-sun’s father is able to contact Ki-woong in a desperate attempt to retrieve his lost daughter. Together, in a way that could almost be described as the worst buddy-cop type partnering ever, they try and track down Hye-sun in a city overrun with zombies.

Desperate Korean teen pleads with his girlfriend over the phone.

Seoul Station is one of those films that do not contain a single likable character. Each character is so extremely flawed in his or her own way that you will not be rooting for anyone to make it through this zombie apocalypse alive. Flaws aside, the actions of seemingly normal characters like the police are extremely frustrating. The police seem to lack basic intelligence regarding safety and protocol in times of an emergency. Possibly in an effort of social commentary, one scene even has the police unable to differentiate the crazed zombies from the frightened homeless people asking for help. Now, with zombies so pervasive in modern culture, is it too much to ask for characters to recognize zombie-like symptoms when they see them, regardless of the probability of it actually happening? When you see a skinny grey man with a huge head and big black eyes you don’t ask, “What’s wrong with that guy?” You simply shout, “Alien!”

In the style of director Yeon’s previous films, the animation is incredibly well done in Seoul Station. In particular, through the use of many different lines to create subtle differences in noses, mouths, chins and brows, each character’s face is drawn in a way that evokes a unique sense of personality and might have you wondering if you’ve met a similar kind of person before in real life. The zombies were drawn well enough, covered in blood with bulging eyes and veins popping out everywhere that give them a sense of infection and something to be avoided at all costs.

Holding on for dear life about to fall into zombie pit.

The third act of Seoul Station goes to near unwelcome levels of darkness. The humans begin to outshine their zombie counterparts in both craziness and violence. As the film comes across as more of a social commentary than entertainment, the lasting result is more of a bummer than anything else. Fans of Yeon’s previous work will surely appreciate his latest effort but for those looking for something more fun in entertainment should look elsewhere or merely as a curiosity being the prequel to Train to Busan. As far as prequels go, Seoul Station is actually more of a side story and the characters are completely different than Train to Busan save for some cameo appearances by the voice actors.

Trailer


 

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