Author: ms10919

Train to Busan

Arguably, one of the most important subtexts in Train to Busan is its critiques of Korea’s mounting class issues. Setting the main stage on a train, the film brings together a socially diverse group with essentially no barriers in between. While zombie attacks act as the main propeller of plot development, the conflicts between surviving human beings is where the true drama lies.

The elite class, represented by the early-stage father character Seokwook and the villain COO Yonsuk, become the face of self-interest, having no scruples to leaving others behind for their own safety. The film suggests the exploitative nature of this group and passes on judgement through details such as Seokwook’s troubled family life, Sangwa’s ridicule of Seokwook before his daughter, Seokwook’s company as the likely cause of the crisis and Yonsuk’s offensive treatment of the elder and teenage girl.

The working class, best represented by the married couple, the homeless man and the baseball teens, on the other hand, is glorified as the image of courage and caring. All of them showed willingness to help people with whom they had little prior interactions in life-threatening situations. Through a series of respectful deaths of the working class, the film reveals this kind group of people, sadly, are not always in control of their lives, susceptible to and bearing the bulk of consequences of the elite class’s irresponsible deeds. This parallel between elites harming the working class and the zombies attacking humans is quite provoking, almost insinuating that they are the same.

Another interesting group involves the elderly sisters, whose stories call attention to the neglected status of old people in Korea. Throughout the plot, hardly anyone noticed or cared about the two sisters apart from the innocent daughter character, Suan. Ironically, it is exactly this neglect that led to the demise of all passengers in the “safest” carriage. When the unadorned sister died, the surviving one realized she had no one at her back anymore and thus no longer wanted to live. Her theatrical choice to end her life by letting zombies in to wipe off passengers in carriage 15, reveals her disapproval of their repulsive banishment of the surviving protagonists and the somber world she lived in in general.

In addition, this film reiterates many of the themes that we have studied in our class so far, particularly questions of community versus individuality. As expected, the group of healthy people try to quarantine themselves in another car of the train from the zombies. However, a particularly striking moment is when the homeless man sacrifices himself for Su-an to escape with Seok-wo; usually it is accepted that in such situations women and children are meant to be the priority, but I do not think that it has been a question we discussed in class. In a way, the homeless man sacrificing himself raises questions of whether certain lives are worth more than others, and what determines the worth of life? It is also interesting to consider which characters draw our sympathy towards them, and which characters we do not sympathize with. For instance, the homeless character definitely draws some sympathy but at the end, Seok-wo’s death draws more sympathy than the homeless man’s death just by virtue of him being a father. Although Seok-wo was initially a distant father, but at the end, by virtue of his positionality in the situation, the audience inevitably sympathizes with him.

You are contagious

Throughout the semester, we’ve been discussing contagious disorders during the Black Death, influenza, and AIDS, but let’s stop for a moment to ponder over a contagion that surrounds us everyday.

In Vanessa Van Edwards’ Ted Talk You are contagious, she describes human emotions as contagious. Her demonstration of how the absence of one’s hands from our frontal view creates discomfort is intriguing because it challenged my pre-conceived notion that the first body part we look at when we see a person is their face. Who would’ve thought we attribute 12% more importance to one’s hand gestures than their words? She also depicts how smelling a sweat pad collected from first-time sky divers and giving it to individuals (without any awareness about the study), can evoke heightened responses in the brain regions associated with fear.

Vanessa Van Edwards’ conveyed that humans can be contagious both non-verbally and verbally. Humans are a collective force, we follow the crowd, and adapt emotions. If we see the expression of fear on someone’s face, we will acknowledge it, recognize it as fearful, and adapt in order to avoid the fearful event or object. In this way, the contagion effect of human emotions keeps us safe. In the same way, smiling is also contagious. The facial feedback theory advocates that while facial expressions can cause emotions, emotions can also cause facial expressions. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘laughing is contagious’, so does that mean this contagion effect gives humans the power to inject emotions like happiness?

To depict the spread of emotions through verbal means, Van Edwards portrays how normal, everyday conversation starters such as ‘how are you?’ and ‘where are you from?’ lack substance and pleasure. She encourages the utilization of conversation starters that verbally use dopamine and engage positive aspects of one’s life. She says that instead, conversation starters should be ‘is there anything exciting you’re working on now?’ or ‘when’s your next vacation going to be?’. Why don’t we extricate positive aspects of our lives and bring it to different conversations in different places? If we have the ability to ‘spread’ positivity, why don’t we?

On that note, keep smiling.

Everyman – A morality play

While reading Boccaccio’s Decameron, I was reminded of a play I studied in my Foundations of Literature I class last semester. Boccaccio’s introduction stated “in the face of so much affliction and misery all respect for the laws of God and man had virtually broken down and been extinguished in our city”, emphasising on the power of the plague to give every man the freedom to “behave as he pleased” (page 7-8).

It was upon reading this paragraph that I observed parallelism between a morality play, Everyman, and Boccaccio’s Decameron. One of the most interesting characters in the play is the dramatic character of Death, who utterly shocks Everyman as he is enjoying his freedom and thrusts him into a carousel of reflection and apprehension. The play elucidates the indiscriminate nature of death and how death will always catch you unaware and unprepared. In this way, the play resonates with Decameron where Boccaccio sheds light on the temporary, indefinite nature of life itself, and how many tend to be blinded by materials and worldly treasures only to have death grip them when they are in the midst of living luxuriously.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching and reading the play (Norton Drama page 294-319; copies available online) and would definitely recommend it to everyone.

Link to one performance of the play attached below: