The Train to Busan movie chronicle a rapid and dangerous zombie virus. Here’s a full timeline of how the infection spread in the movies.
The Train to Busan movies tell the story of a terrifying and rapid zombie virus that overtakes South Korea in a relatively short timeline of events. The series has cemented itself as a modern-day classic in the horror genre for good reason.
Train to Busan starts off as a simple story of a young child named Su-an and her estranged father, Seok-woo, taking a train from Seoul to Busan, South Korea. Early moments of the movie subtly hint that some kind of virus has begun to infect local wildlife. So, when that virus jumps to a woman who boards the train, an all-out zombie outbreak quickly overtakes the train and its vulnerable passengers. The prequel, Seoul Station, tells the story of how the virus spread at the infamous train’s point of departure. Peninsula, the third movie in the series – which released on VOD in October 2020 – tells a loosely connected story four years after the events of the first movie.
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None of the three movies have any direct connection to one another. Instead, they’re meant to show how quickly a virus can spread in one relatively contained area. As the series released its third movie in the midst of a real-life, global pandemic, it’s a story that feels all-too-real at times. The horror series finds a striking way to modernize the zombie movie sub-genre. While the movies tend to focus more on characters rather than the more specific inner workings of the virus and how it managed to spread throughout Korea, eventually overtaking it completely, the timeline can be a little tricky to nail down. Here’s the full virus timeline in all three Train to Busan movies, explained.
2016: Seoul Station
Seoul Station is an animated prequel to Train Busan, and as such, takes place shortly before the events of the first movie. True to its title, Seoul Station takes place in Seoul, South Korea, which is where the events of Train to Busan starts. The first movie in the series briefly shows flashes of the outbreak’s beginning. Seoul Station also dives further into the government’s failed attempt to contain the outbreak. Similarly to Train to Busan, Seoul Station takes a familial approach to the zombie movie genre. The prequel focuses on a father’s search for his runaway daughter while a zombie outbreak quickly threatens his city. Just like with Train to Busan, Seoul is shown to fall to the virus quickly. It proves that once the chemical leak started, there was no stopping the virus from spreading. It’s a grim reminder that the passengers of the titular train in Train to Busan never really had a shot of escaping the virus.
2016: Train to Busan
Train to Busan subtly introduces its zombie virus in the opening moments of the movie. A driver is informed roads are closed due to a chemical leak at a biotech plant. He drives away and the camera reveals a deer, previously struck down by a car, reanimate as a zombie. While the exact chain of events that led to this is unclear, the leak somehow began to affect local wildlife. It seems to be a matter of hours or days before that infection reaches the human population, as shown by the infected woman who makes it on the train to Busan. This is the first piece of evidence as to how swiftly this deadly virus acts.
The virus spreads quickly because those affected turn to zombies almost immediately after being bitten. Traditional zombie movie lore usually depicts the infected suffering for hours and sometimes even longer before they turn. Those bitten in Train to Busan turn in a matter of minutes. This is likely a reflection of whichever leaked chemical acted as the origin of the virus. The zombies in this horror movie are strong, fast, and fairly coherent, which is also another departure from the typical horror movie zombie.
The fast-acting zombies are what caused the initial infection to spread so quickly, and why the government couldn’t retain control. As soon as the original infected woman jumped onto the train headed toward to Busan, the virus began to spread. It seemed to overtake the majority of the train in a matter of minutes. The train travels from Seoul to Busan — that trip takes about six hours to complete. By the time survivors Seong-kyeong and Su-an reach Busan, South Korea appears to be completely taken over by zombies. That means the country succumbed to the virus in a matter of hours. Most zombie movies depict their virus taking months or even years to take complete hold of a country. Once again, Train to Busan sets itself apart by depicting a zombie virus that moves at lightning speed. It’s both a scary and refreshing take to the stereotypical dull, slow-moving zombies of horror movies past.
The second Train to Busan movie, Peninsula, is a loose sequel to the original. Peninsula‘s only connection to Train to Busan is that both movies take place in the same universe. The horror movie picks up four years after the events of the first film, and shows life in a zombie-filled world. A newscast reveals that the rest of the world has gotten the zombie virus under control in the four years since the events of the first movie. Since neither North Korea nor South Korea managed to get the virus under control, they remained quarantined from the rest of the world all that time. Peninsula sees a group of survivors returning to South Korea for a dangerous mission.
Peninsula centers on Marine Captain Jung-Seok, who is shown to have suffered an immense loss during the outbreak four years prior. This offers another small connection to Train to Busan. He and his estranged brother-in-law are sent with a small team to return to South Korea, and retrieve a large sum of cash. They’re given a first-hand look at the way Seoul’s zombie outbreak caused society to crumble. Zombies are still very much present, but the spread has seemed to slow down significantly. It’s almost as if the outbreak has become a common illness that the people of North Korea and South Korea have to learned to live with. Peninsula was released during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic of 2020. The movie draws an eerie parallel to the real-life pandemic, as the coronavirus is predicted to slowly morph into an illness that the world will have to learn to deal with over time.
Peninsula acts as a bookend to Train to Busan‘s chaotic zombie outbreak. The series is a rare one in that it shows the full arc of a zombie outbreak, whereas most zombie movies tend to focus on just one stage of an outbreak, usually right at the beginning or years later, after it’s been ongoing for a while. Should Train to Busan 3 ever happen, it will likely continue to flesh out this timeline — whether that be showing why that chemical leak caused a zombie virus, or how the world picked up the pieces from the deadly virus. Whatever route that movie takes, it is bound to be another unique take on the zombie horror movie genre.
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