Zombie apocalypse fictions are dime a dozen in these days, but South Korean animation feature film “Seoul Station” has its own disturbing darkness to distinguish itself among other zombie movies. While its zombies are frightening as required, it is also quite unnerving to observe that the society to be turned upside down by a sudden zombie outbreak is a little less grotesque in comparison, and that aspect is the major source of gut-chilling emotional effects to strike us hard in the movie.
But then we should not expect anything less than that from the director/writer Yeon Sang-ho, who gave me darkly harrowing experiences through his two previous animation feature films “The King of Pigs” (2011) and “The Fake” (2013). Both of them show us how the weak and helpless in the lower strata of the South Korean society can be cruelly and ruthlessly abused or exploited, and they leave bitter aftertastes to linger on us as constantly shaking our nerve with the dark, ugly sides of the South Korean society.
The opening scene in “Seoul Station” also begins with a similar gloomy aura of despair and doom shown from Yeon’s two previous works. During one hot summer evening at the Seoul Station, people notice a badly injured old guy struggling to walk to somewhere, but nobody pays any attention to him mainly because it is clear from his appearance that he is one of those shabby homeless people who usually sleep around the station.
Anyway, he manages to arrive at his usual sleeping spot, and his health condition gets worse than before. His fellow homeless guy, who looks rather retarded considering his clumsy words and behaviors, tries to help his friend as much as he can, but then there are not many things he can do about that. A nearby shelter for homeless people is already full, and nobody in the shelter wants to give up his place. For the guards and public servants on duty around the station, homeless people are simply an annoying problem they do not want to handle, and they callously disregard the matter of that ill old man.
If you have seen Yeon’s first live action feature film “Train to Busan” (2016), which was released in South Korea and US in last month, I am sure you already have a pretty good idea about what is happening to the old man. A deadly zombie virus is taking the first step of its outbreak inside the city, and, once the old man is turned into a zombie shortly after his eventual death, many other homeless people are also turned into zombies within a short period of time.
Meanwhile, the movie also focuses on the desperate condition of a runaway teenager girl named Hye-seon (voiced by Sim Eun-kyeong, who incidentally played one of the minor characters in “Train to Busan”). She is currently living with her boyfriend Gi-woong (voiced by Lee Joon), but they run out of money now and they are about to be kicked out from their shabby motel room because of that. When she comes to learn that Gi-woong attempts to push her into online prostitution, Hye-seon becomes infuriated about this, and their following quarrel puts her into more pain and despair while her despicable boyfriend eventually walks away from her.
Aimlessly wandering around the Seoul Station after that, Hye-seon happens to come across the beginning of the zombie epidemic, and she soon finds herself running away from zombies. At one point, she and other survivor have to walk along a subway track to find any possible way out of their peril, and there is a brief but memorable moment involved with a subway station which turns out to be full of zombies already to their horror (after watching this scene, you will more appreciate the existence of platform screen doors).
While Hye-seon is desperately trying to survive her hellish night, Gi-woong finds himself accompanying the last guy he wants to get involved with. After hearing about an online advertisement posted by Gi-woong, Seok-gyoo (voiced by Ryoo Seung-ryong) approaches to Gi-woong as disguising himself as a client, and Gi-woong realizes he made a very big mistake as soon as he meets Seok-gyoo. He has no choice but to help Seok-gyoo finding Hye-seon as soon as possible, but then they also encounter zombies on their way, and we see how the situation only gets worse as they keep searching for Hye-seon. Thanks to the ignorance and incompetence of the police, the city is thrown into more panic and chaos as the night goes on, and Gi-woong and Seok-gyoo come to face a grim possibility while time is running out for Hye-seon as well as other unfortunate people.
Like “Train to Busan”, “Seoul Station” has weak and strong points to notice. While the former is supported by more efficient storytelling and more effective action/thriller moments, the latter is helped a lot by its vivid, stylish depiction of zombies, and its zombies definitely look scarier than their live action counterparts in the former. While the former is hampered a bit by its melodramatic third act, the latter often feels too blatant in its critical view on the South Korean society, and I must point out that it is difficult to care much about many of the characters in the movie, who are pathetic or repugnant to say the least as reflected by their ungainly appearances.
Like “The King of Pigs” and “The Fake”, “Seoul Station” is not a comfortable animation film to watch because of its stark mood and story. It is not as entertaining as “Train to Busan”, but you will probably admire it if you were impressed by “The King of Pigs” and “The Fake”. All hell breaks loose in the end, but it was already a hell for them even before the beginning – and we are chilled by that while scared by those bloody zombies.