In a decade dominated by countless zombie movies of varying quality, Train to Busan stood out as one of the best. Gaining international acclaim, it redefined the genre and gave it an emotional core not seen since the early days of Romero’s Living Dead series.
Within the next few years, it was given both the sequel and prequel treatment, creating a trilogy of vastly different films. All three deal with the same zombie outbreak event, but all three tell their stories in unique ways. Which one reigns supreme over the others? That’s what we’re here to find out!
Round I – Characters
Fractured families seems to be common thread for the protagonists of this series. Train to Busan deals with an absentee father, Seok-woo taking his daughter, Su-an on the titular train to visit her mother in Busan for her birthday.
The film does a great job of painting a picture of Seok-woo as a man married to his job (which explains his divorce), and who constantly disappoints his daughter to the point that she just expects it now. But he’s then forced to be the father he never was as he tries to protect her during this zombie outbreak.
Seoul Station features a protagonist, Hye-sun who’s just trying to get her life back together, and her abusive boyfriend Ki-woong. She ends up well on her way to a badass character arc where she takes a stand for herself, but it’s all rudely interrupted by the zombies (which soon end up on the train from the first movie).
When it comes to characters however, Peninsula delivers the most and does the most with them. Our main focus begins with brothers in law Jung-seok and Chul-min. Their trauma at losing loved ones leaves them quite bitter at the beginning.
But as they venture back into zombie-infested South Korea, they find new reasons to live. As protagonists, the series did just as good a job with the other two movies, but where Peninsula really outdoes the competition is the supporting characters.
Everyone from Min-jung, her daughters Joon and Yu-Jiin, and her father Elder Kim to the corrupt Captain Seo and Prive Kim, to the psychotic Sergeant Hwang, every character, regardless of screen time, feels like a fully fleshed out person. Each one is given enough depth that you could easily see them being the protagonists in their own stories.
Round II – Story
Peninsula may have more characters that are better developed, however this does come at the cost of sometimes having a bit too much going on story-wise. In order to make all the events happen the right way for the sake of story, certain plot elements feel quite contrived, and it doesn’t flow as naturally all the time as the other two.
Both Seoul Station and Train to Busan have simpler approaches, which is an advantage for one, disadvantage for the other. The former is almost too simple, and struggles to justify its own existence.
For fans of Train to Busan, there really wasn’t a need to know exactly how it all started at the station. And while more interesting and compelling story would have made a prequel worthwhile, Seoul Station just unfortunately isn’t that. Train to Busan is a basic story of survival, but damn is it effective, heart-pounding, and exciting.
Round III – Style/Tone
Both Train to Busan and Peninsula are stylishly shot and well-craft films. They’re both known for their deep emotional scenes, which can sometimes border on the melodramatic.
For some, it’s a welcome addition to a genre that doesn’t usually have such poignancy, to others it’s cheap heartstring-tugging that’s no better than a soap opera.
However, it is in this area that Seoul Station really shines. Because of its animated composition, it’s able to achieve things that would be nearly impossible with live action. It’s able to be in control of every single frame and portray gruesome zombie violence, but in a stylized animated way.
Round IV – Effects/Stunts
Seoul Station’s animation was responsible for it winning the last round, but sadly it’s keeping it completely out of the running for this one. So it’s really between the other two.
Train to Busan uses its fast zombies really well in a series of tense, claustrophobic chases scenes, all confined to the train itself. It creates a real sense of dread and tension, as we the audience feel like we’re on the train too.
However, Peninsula really upped the ante in more ways than one. We got to see the full scale effects of the zombie apocalypse on South Korea, and the Mad Max inspired society that arose in its wake.
We get action-packed car chases, zombie fight club, and close to an all-out warzone. It took was the first film laid out and escalated it brilliantly.
Round V – Themes
All three movies deal with themes of survival, making difficult choices, the value of human life, and redemption. Seoul Station dabbles in them, Train to Busan dives deeply into them, but Peninsula really sums it up best.
Train to Busan has a great redemptive arc about rising to the occasion and becoming a better parent late rather than never. But Peninsula’s climax reminds us all that if we abandon our humanity, then what’s the point in survival?
This was honestly surprising as initially I thought I preferred Train to Busan. What do you all think? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!