By me for the Myanmar Times
Since its break-out from South Korea in July, Train to Busan fever has been spreading through cinemas the world over like a rage virus. The film’s cocktail of zombies, gore and sentimentality – with a bit more gore for good measure – has seen it turn its B-movie budget of less than US$200,000 into an $80 million profit globally, and breathe new life into a genre that just won’t stay dead.
While Asia is a relative newcomer to big-screen zombies (which date back over 80 years in America to the critically panned 1932 film White Zombie), it does have previous when it comes to undead-flavoured mayhem on the big screen. So if Train to Busan has left you hungry for more Eastern-style flesh-eating flicks, here are three of the best to sink your teeth into.
This Japanese horror spectacular hacks together samurai mysticism, gangster shootouts and, of course, a healthy serving of zombie slaying. When a pair of escaped convicts meet some ne’er-do-wells in a woodland clearing, they aren’t expecting it to turn out to be “Resurrection Forest” – the 444th portal to the other side – and aren’t best pleased when bodies buried there start springing back to life.
Like many movies of the genre, Versus’ dialogue comes up short, but stylish action scenes and good-humoured gore make for a thrilling two hours. Worth a look if you’re done with “It’s only a fleshwound!” style zombie-film cliches and want something a bit more creative.
Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombie (2001)
This amusingly titled Japanese B-movie seems to have hopes of providing us with a dense and considered social commentary about the structures in schools that define our characters and colour our souls. Fortunately, it totally fails and instead we are treated to a micro-budget slash-a-thon, with plenty of laughs and fake blood. The premise is daft and has slicing and dicing built in: Teenage girls who are infected turn into “Stacies”, who must be cut into 165 pieces to be killed. Why? Because Japan.
Hopelessly naff, yet brimming with charm and plenty of Western zombie film references, Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombie will either worm its way into your cold heart, or be your least favourite zombie film ever.
The Guard Post (2008)
It’s back to Korea for my final recommendation, which comes complete with something rare to zombie films; a well-defined plot. Two army operatives are sent to investigate a military outpost where a strange incident has been reported. On arrival they find the place strewn with corpses, but all the weapons are still locked up and a rabid virus looks a far more likely killer. The claustrophobic and psychological thrills crescendo in a scene where one of our heroes is convinced by undead soldiers that the disease never really existed.
The Guard Post sits at the more sophisticated end of Asian zombie films, and those hoping for more gore and senseless violence will instead have to make do with well-rounded characters and slick production values. Despite a splattering of confusing flashback sequences, this po-faced effort fares well and might be the closest thing to Train to Busan out there – for now.
If devouring these three still leaves you hungry for more, fear not: The success of Train to Busan will surely see a spree of Asian undead limping toward the big screen before long. In fact, the business-savvy brains behind Busan have already been pushing its animated prequel – Seoul Station – which some are describing as even better than its successor. Stand by for a tide of unearthly invasion, coming soon to a cinema near you.