Last night, I had some of the best Korean barbecue I've ever eaten in my life. It was juicy, meaty, tender, and generally absolutely fucking delicious. It only made sense that I follow up dinner with a viewing of SEOUL STATION - an animated prequel to the critically acclaimed Korean zombie flick, TRAIN TO BUSAN, which features Koreans eating other Koreans in a juicy, meaty, but not-quite-so-tender frenzy.
I'm not sure if I'm in a good or bad position when it comes to reviewing SEOUL STATION; it's a prequel to a film I've not yet seen. I'm sure there are moments foreshadowing events in TRAIN TO BUSAN that went completely over my head, but at least going in without first seeing the main attraction allows me to judge this as its own entity rather than simply as a companion piece.
As the film opens, two young men outside Seoul Station are seen discussing the need for universal healthcare. Out of the crowd, a sickly man stumbles into view, his hand held over a wound on his neck. One of the men goes to help him, but when he notices the smell, he retreats, realizing he's just homeless and not really worth the effort.
The opening sets up not only the infection storyline, but also the heavy themes the film seeks to present. This is not just animated zombie mayhem - this is a deeply political piece brimming with scathing commentary on socioeconomic and sociopolitical injustice. Without looking into it further, I'm sure TRAIN TO BUSAN covers the same thematic ground. The zombies here represent the downtrodden - the folks crushed by the system, forced so far into desperation they literally have to eat each other.
In keeping with most foreign cinema, some of the cultural references are no doubt lost in translation. I'd have liked to have had someone familiar with the South Korean way of life to provide running commentary on the more specific cultural exclusivities for me, but the overall theme of the economic elite bleeding the working class and destroying the poor is more than universal enough for it not to matter.
The story goes on to follow Suk-gyu, a father looking for his daughter Hye-sun who, after being trapped in a life of prostitution, has run away with her jobless boyfriend Ki-woong. Large sections of Seoul are soon overrun, and the characters are thrust into the anarchy of a full-on undead apocalypse.
The film does a good job of (literally and figuratively) drawing sympathetic characters. They all feel realistic, and the script puts them through some truly gut-wrenching moments. Admittedly, the proceedings at times briefly turn into what some might criticize as generic zombie action, but the setting and the execution elevate it beyond the genre's usual trappings.
The animation is impressive on both a design and technical level. It appears to utilize a mixed variety of techniques to bring the visuals to life and - of course - death. The characters are rendered using a combination of 3D modeling and cel-shading, with an effect that makes the presentation look more like traditional animation. The backgrounds are beautifully drawn, and the overall result is a very attractive one.
It's tough these days to do anything new with the zombie genre, since "The Walking Dead" has all but run it into the ground, but SEOUL STATION doesn't come across as stale because it brings a fresh cultural perspective along with it. This is a good film in its own right, and if SEOUL STATION is just an entree, I can't wait to throw TRAIN TO BUSAN on the barbecue.
SEOUL STATION will be available exclusively on iTunes in the U.S. May 30th and can be pre-ordered HERE.