Review: Seoul Station aka 서울역 (South Korea 2016)

Seoul Station is an animated prequel to one of my favorite genre films of last year, the chaotic zombie thriller Train to Busan (reviewed here).  I say prequel, but as a practical matter, Seoul Station is less a prequel than another story set on the same chaotic night of the outbreak.  While the story is set in and around Seoul Station, none of the characters from the live action film are featured, and no explanation for the outbreak is offered.  More importantly, Seoul Station lacks Busan‘s high concept – setting the action on a moving train careening through the downfall of civilization.  Still, if you enjoyed Busan and like a good zombie thriller, Seoul Station will more than scratch that itch.

Yeon Sang-Ho directed both films, prepping for Busan (his first live action feature) while still completing work on Seoul Station.  And while Busan represents a new evolution of his abilities as a director, Seoul Station is more representative of his earlier style of animation.  Like his 2011 King of Pigs, Seoul Station is shot in a limited animation style with a dark palette, combining lifelike and choppy movement in a way that recalls the rotoscoping of Ralph Bakshi minus the phantasmagoria.

In my contemporary review of King of Pigs, I noted that the film posited “a class struggle between the dogs – the well-cared for and well-groomed children of the wealthy and influential – and the pigs – nerds, geeks and social outcasts who serve only as the dog’s natural prey.”  Seoul Station is less overtly political, but still expresses the same fundamentally grim view of human nature.

Throughout, and even before society starts to break down, Seoul Station consistently depicts the police and civil authorities as callous and conflates their treatment of the infected with their treatment of the human homeless and protesters.   At least in this respect, the film definitely has a clearer political edge than Busan, which only takes choppy stabs at class conflict, though neither does much more than ape the razor-sharp socio-economic commentary of George Romero in his highly political Night of the Living Dead series.

Instead of the wealthy protagonist of Busan, with his privilege and connections, Seoul Station shows us the beginning of the end of the world through the perspective of society’s losers, a frustrated runaway prostitute, her weaselly boyfriend/pimp, and the homeless of the station.  These are people without a safety net, and when the world starts to break down into violent chaos, no one is there to protect them.  And in Seoul Station, the world breaks down fast, going from an isolated outbreak to total pandemonium seemingly in a heartbeat.

2 1/2 out of 4 Stars (Good).  Seoul Station is now available for purchase on iTunes and will be available on DVD and Blu-ray on June 6.

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