J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

NYAFF ’16: Seoul Station

Zombies do not have discerning palates. They will eat anyone, including the dirty, smelly homeless. In fact, tramps and hoboes are particularly attractive zombie fodder, because they tend to cluster in group and are unlikely to carry equalizers. Unfortunately, the huddled masses that regularly spend the night lounging on the lower concourse of Seoul’s commuter train station are about to be overrun by the walking dead and it will not take them long to come shambling out for the rest of the city in Yeon Sang-ho’s chillingly dark animated feature Seoul Station (clip here), which screens during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

The homeless man looks peaked even by homeless standards. Judging from his bloody wound, he is not that far removed from zombie zero. However, it will take a while for him to turn. In the meantime, we meet Hye-sun, a runaway reluctantly turning tricks for Ki-woong, her geeky gamer wannabe pimp. Frankly, she has worked for far worse than him, but she is still tired of supporting the useless dweeb on her back. Of course, they angrily part company just as the zombie apocalypse dawns.

Hye-sun considered crashing with the homeless beneath the station, but obviously that was a bad idea. Barely surviving the initial rampage, Hye-sun constantly goes from frying pan to fire to even more scorching blue-flamed fire. At least the remorseful Ki-woong is out there looking for her, as is her old man, Suk-gyu, who picked a heck of a time for a reunion.

Without question, Yeon is one of the most distinctive animated filmmakers working today, due to his uncompromisingly pessimistic narratives rather than his visual style. He calls and raises the bleak naturalism of King of Pigs and The Fake, with Station’s bitter indictment of human nature. This film is guaranteed to be divisive, because it really knocks viewers back on their heels. You might think you know dark zombie narrative turns from Walking Dead, but Station will absolutely turn your stomach to ice-water. Yet there is value in such a strong reaction.

While Yeon absolutely drives his unsubtle political messages into the ground in the first act, he builds the tension quite effectively once the zombie apocalypse begins in earnest. In fact, the climax is rather masterful. Ryu Seung-ryong (The Piper, War of the Arrows) is also perfectly cast as the steely voice of Suk-gyu. Yeon does zombies with an ideological zeal worthy of George Romero—and its animated form makes it even more effective. Highly recommended, Seoul Station screens this Friday night (6/24) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.

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