Seoul Station (2016)

*. Seoul Station is billed as a prequel to Train to Busan, the Korean “zombies on a train” film. I’m not entirely sure which came first, though Train to Busan was released a few weeks earlier. In any event, I don’t see much of a connection aside from the fact that they were both directed by Sang-ho Yeon, they’re both set in Korea, and they both have zombies. Nowadays we say that such films inhabit the same cinematic “universe.”
*. The big difference is that this film is animated and Train to Busan was a live action feature.
*. I didn’t think Train to Busan was anything very new, and in terms of the action in this film I think it’s even less original.
*. The story plays out as just another outbreak scenario. There is the now familiar political subtext. We are immediately presented with a society that is falling apart. Seoul Station is a sort of unofficial homeless shelter, and it’s among the homeless that the zombie virus takes hold. Later, the police will think that they’re caught up in an outbreak of rabid derelicts. Meanwhile, families are dissolving. The younger generation can’t afford to live in even the most squalid apartments. A landlady complains that the young have no respect for their elders. Crazy people wander the subway system. When the shit hits the fan the state has to come in and go full martial law, and it’s not clear if that’s a bad thing.
*. I say the political subtext is familiar because the zombie genre is by now almost automatically associated with social satire and political commentary. Indeed, one can make the argument that this has been the form it has taken since the beginning.
*. The big disappointment here, however, is the one thing that is new: the animation. I was hoping for at least one of two things from this. Either (1) animation showing me something that live action can’t, or (2) a distinctive new look or visual style.
*. The first is, admittedly, very hard to do these days because effects films use so much CGI that they are already, to a significant extent, animated. I’m not sure there’s much left that animation can do that “live action” (I have to put the words in quotes) can’t. Mass armies of zombies taking over an urban downtown? Brains splattering in all different directions? This can all be done with digital effects, and done better.
*. This leaves the matter of a fresh look. Seoul Station doesn’t have one. The animation is as generic as it gets. Sure it looks OK most of the time, though the characters walk and run in a rather stiff way. But there’s no personal style to it, or individual artistic vision being expressed. It’s the film equivalent of Marvel or DC comics.
*. In sum: a garden-variety zombie apocalypse with hardly any gore and dull animation. The story actually has a nice twist near the end, but then settles for tying things up on a predictable note. Zombie fans may want to check it out just to see what a feature-length cartoon zombie movie looks like, but aside from that it’s not worth bothering with.

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