Despite it being a rather conventional zombie film, I rather liked Train to Busan and so I had high hopes for this animated prequel by the same director Yeon Sang-ho, especially after hearing that it’s better than the better known live-action film. Despite being a prequel, it was made and released after Train to Busan so it was reasonable to expect that it would indeed be better. Unfortunately this was very much not the case.
The main characters this time around are centered around Hye-sun, a young woman who has run away from home and lives with her boyfriend Ki-woong in Seoul. Having run out of money, Ki-woong tries to persuade to take up prostitution, something she has done before and she leaves angrily. Meanwhile a homeless man suffers from a bleeding neck injury and despite his friend’s attempts to get him medical attention, he goes untreated. This is of course the beginnings of a zombie infection. Hye-sun gets caught up in it at a metro station and ends up fleeing in the company of a homeless man. Ki-woong runs into Suk-gyu, who claims to be Hye-sun’s father and has come searching for her after seeing her advertisement online. They end up having to help each other to survive as they comb the city in search of Hye-sun.
Visually, the art here is only average and nothing special compared to the quality of modern Japanese animated features. What’s more disappointing is that the film doesn’t take advantage of the more freeform nature of animation to create any unique or memorable scenes. You have your standard shots of zombies shuffling around and grabbing people, of them clumsily falling down stairs and there’s pretty much it. There aren’t even any large hordes of zombies and the action remains relatively small in scale. I suppose drawing a truly gigantic crowd must be too much work and certainly no equivalent of the spectacular chain of zombies in Train to Busan. It’s not awful, just so pedestrian and plain that it feels kind of lazy.
One interesting thing that Seoul Station does attempt is to wrap a critique of capitalism around the usual zombie story. Patient zero is a homeless man who doesn’t receive any medical attention and the authorities even initially dismiss the event as homeless people rioting. Both Hye-sun and Ki-woong are only a step above that, being people who have been left behind as the country has become rich. It’s a laudable aim and probably the reason why some critics have praised it so much. Unfortunately it doesn’t pull that off very well and indeed doesn’t go all in on this angle. Why not use actual homeless people as the main characters for example instead of Hye-sun? If I were the director, I’d try to finagle some sort of plot in which the authorities prioritize the defense of areas in which rich people reside and the poor people hit back by sabotaging that defense, so that everyone dies in a wave of zombies. As it is the director does plenty of hand-wringing and moralizing but goes nowhere with it.
On top of everything else, Seoul Station also commits the sin of being one of those horror films in which pretty much every character is as dumb as a sack of bricks. Now I’m willing to give some allowances for a panicky situation and mental anguish so I don’t expect every character to be hyper-rational min-maxers but it’s incredibly annoying to see characters do stuff like not bothering to keep out of sight of zombies, of closing doors behind them, of not at least trying to carry around a weapon of some sort etc. Suk-gyu is initially portrayed as being the most competent and the one person able to plan ahead to some extent but then his whole motivation for seeking out Hye-sun turns out to be completely ridiculous. The authorities of course are either patronizing fools or incompetent cowards. Watching this actually gave me a new appreciation for how well written the characters in The Walking Dead game are and how they react and behave like reasonable people.
So yeah this is a mediocre film and a terrible follow-up to the very respectable Train to Busan. You’d better off watching a Let’s Play of The Walking Dead game on YouTube than this.