Animation has long been the cost-effective option for studios wishing to expand a successful franchise without the necessary expense of a live action production requiring sets, costumes, lead actors and supporting cast. So it was that Star Trek‘s five year mission continued in cartoon form, that the Starship Troopers continued their campaign as Roughnecks, that before The Chronicles of Riddick came the Dark Fury of Richard Riddick, and that the Train to Busan is boarded at Seoul Station.
Released a month after its parent film in its native South Korea but with a delayed departure on these shores, this animated prequel is once again directed by Yeon Sang-ho and also written by him, the parent film having been written by Park Joo-suk, chronicling the events of the evening before Train to Busan takes place and the horror which unfolds through the night as the streets of Seoul are overtaken by the rapidly spreading zombie infection.
While Train to Busan follows the desperate passage of a middle class employed father’s to the supposed safety of the southern tip of the country, here the focus is on another part of Seoul, the slums where the homeless shelter under awnings and sleep in train stations, where low rent prostitutes bargain for scraps.
Hye-Sun (voiced by Train to Busan‘s Shim Eun-kyung) is about to be evicted from the apartment she shares with her boyfriend Ki-woong (voiced by Vampire Detective‘s Lee Joon); in order to make ends meet he has taken photographs of her while she sleeps, posting them on the Internet in order to pimp her out. Hye-Sun is furious and refuses his proposal; Ki-woong calls her a selfish bitch and threatens to throw her out on the street.
That photograph has not gone unnoticed; across town, Suk-gyu (voiced by The Target‘s Seung-ryong Ryu) is desperate for news of his missing daughter, but as he sets out to find her trouble is stirring in the slums, a homeless man who is becoming increasingly sick having been injured, bleeding from what appears to be multiple bites. His brother seeks help but when he brings the authorities the bloodied body has already vanished.
The zombie subgenre simply refuses to lay down and die. Fuelled by the continuing success of The Walking Dead, its spinoff Fear the Walking Dead and its knockoff Z Nation and so many others, there is death in the old bones yet, but unlike other trends which must reinvent themselves to survive and remain relevant, zombies seem content to offer more of the same and audiences seem happy to accept it, an unambitious status quo Seoul Station does not challenge.
While Train to Busan was akin to …28 Days Later in that it defied the prevalent “slow zombie” movement, taking the kinetic threat of Danny Boyle’s modern classic and accelerating it further by placing it on a high-speed cross-country train, Seoul Station feels conventional and static, populated by many characters, few of whom become defined and all of those clichéd, though in the end most of them turn out to be worse monsters than the hordes they run from.
While fast moving and more animated than the shuffle of The Walking Dead these zombies are no more interesting despite their rapid approach, and so the narrative must be carried by the surviving human characters, all of them sad faced, all of them broken, Hye-Sun weeping constantly, joined in her misery in a subway tunnel by her homeless travelling companion who adds his own hysterical tears.
With animated features now a global market Seoul Station must compete on that level yet it fails to capture the beauty of Studio Ghibli and lacks the dynamism of Ghost in the Shell, now over twenty years old, the animation functional and the situations uninspired, never taking advantage of the expanded scope the format offers, the lacklustre foley work undermining the supposed horror; beating a zombie landlady to second death with a ceramic cistern lid should not sound like an enthusiastic game of ping-pong.
With an endemic lack of knowledge of zombies hampering the official response it is a competition to see who can be more incompetent, the police or the ambulance crew, before the army show up to be slaughtered en masse, expecting automatic deferral to their authority and declaring themselves in full control of the situation before finding out they’re really not. In the end perhaps it is the brainless zombies who turn out to be the most stupid, but at least they have an excuse.
Seoul Station is available on DVD from StudioCanal on Monday 3rd April