At NYAFF 2012, I saw a movie called The King of Pigs. I wanted to like it, but I couldn’t get over the atrociously bad translation. It ruined what should have been a very serious dramatic animated film. Seoul Station is also a very serious dramatic animated film. Instead of being about suicidal high schoolers, though, this one is about class struggles and zombies. It has serious potential, but it is held back by the very nature of what it is: Serious animation.
The crowd that I was with laughed throughout much of the movie. I didn’t really laugh, because I didn’t find it funny. And in those moments, I thought, “Are these people just awful… or is the movie failing in a way I’m not picking up on?” But it occurred to me that, while I can’t discount the former possibility, the real reason they were laughing was because they felt like they were supposed to. This was a gory animated zombie movie: It’s “fun,” not a hyper-depressing drama. And yet… it is a hyper-depressing drama, but the audience couldn’t reconcile that. So the crowd hooted and hollered in moments that deserved sullen silences.
There is no inherent reason for Seoul Station to be animated. In my review of The King of Pigs, I said the following:
The animated nature of the film means that creating disorienting environments or moments can happen more naturally and more easily within the film. That is taken full advantage of. If nothing else, it’s definitely interesting.
Seoul Station doesn’t have any of that. It felt like the animated pre-vis for a live-action film that was yet to come. I kept waiting for it to justify its decision to be animated, but it never did. It would have been a better movie if it was live action, because it wouldn’t have led to the issues caused by animated expectations. (And, in fact, this is actually the prequel to a live-action film, Train to Busan, which I haven’t seen.)
That isn’t to say it’s a bad film, though; it’s not. It has some interesting things to say about class struggle, but it doesn’t get too bogged down in its moralizing. Much of it comes from (admittedly expository) side conversations, which make the whole thing a bit more alive.
It’s also exactly as bleak as I expected it to be, given the director’s pedigree. (Which is to say, crushingly so.) And if you’re looking for a crushingly bleak animated zombie film, you’re not going to find a better one than Seoul Station, faults and all.
[This review is being posted as part of our coverage of the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival, which is running in New York from June 22th through July 9th. Find out more information here and keep up with all our coverage here.]
Seoul Station (서울역)
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Country: South Korea