Korean Movie Review: #Alive (new Train to Busan?)

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Movie poster from Asianwiki

I love zombie movies, and I’m also a massive fan of Korean movies/dramas, so when the two are combined into one film, you know I have to watch it.

#Alive (#살아있다 in Korean, pronounced “Salaissda,” meaning “live”) is a 2020 Korean movie following a young man stuck in his apartment when a zombie apocalypse begins. It stars Yoo Ah In (who I have mixed feelings about, because I loved him in Six Flying Dragons, but wasn’t of fan of him in Chicago Typewriter) as the protagonist and Park Shin Hye (possible my favorite Korean actress, found in dramas such as You’re Beautiful, The Heirs, and The Doctors and movies such as Cyrano Agency, Miracle in Cell No. 7, and The Royal Tailor) is a fellow survivor living in the apartment directly across from him. It was released in June in South Korea, and came to Netflix on September 8, 2020 (which is where I saw it).

I found myself comparing it very much to Train to Busan. They are not similar merely in the fact that they are both Korean, but because they focus mostly on the characters instead of the action and horror (though both movies have a few action scenes). The themes, while different, both focus on the characters’ struggles. I will try to avoid spoilers in most of the review, but I will give a quick spoiler section at the end.

But let’s break down what I thought of the movie.

Characters

There are only two main characters (and really only a couple background characters). Yoo Ah In plays Joon Woo, a video game live streamer who seems to spend most of his time inside. He appears to be anti-social, turning more to the internet for his happiness than to the world.

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His world changes when an unexplained disease starts spreading. Of course, it’s the zombie apocalypse, and he watches from his apartment as survivors escape or are eaten. With little food and no knowledge of if his family is safe (his mother and sister were going grocery shopping that morning), he attempts to survive as long as possible. Eventually, he tries to hang himself, giving up hope, only to have Park Shin Hye’s character signal to him to stop. He then fixates on seeing her, the first human he’s seen in days.

Joon Woo is an insecure character, and I really felt like he was realistic how so many people would act during such an apocalypse. We like to think we would be like Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead, but let’s face it that few of us will. Joon Woo is no coward, certainly, having played enough survival games to attempt searching for supplies, and killing a zombie that breaks into his apartment. He’s this perfect combination of survivor and naïve (since he’s never lived through this situation), which I feel like is perfect.

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Park Shin Hye’s character, Yoo Bin, is much more of a badass. She sets up traps for zombies, kills a bunch, and seems to have adjusted to surviving much better. And yet she also seems traumatized by the situation, as we all would be. She also shows sympathy to Joon Woo, sending him food and communicating as much as she can with him. Because most of the movie focuses on Joon Woo, we don’t get much of a background on her, but she’s still an interesting character.

Themes

The theme of loneliness is perhaps forefront. Yes, there are themes of fear, depression, and hopelessness, but most of the movie focuses on Joon Woo’s growing loneliness surrounded by zombies. Much of his hope is derived from believing his family is alive and will come and rescue him. And later it is derived from Yoo Bin and how he will do anything to protect her. She is, in a sense, a tie to his humanity, especially as he considers committing suicide and she saves him.

Even a neighbor they meet briefly is struggling from loneliness and trying to clasp onto anything to not feel alone.

The Zombies

It is a zombie movie, and I do love watching a lot of zombie movies, so you know we have to talk about them a bit. Unlike Train to Busan, these zombies feel pretty generic. They move kind of like humans but slightly slower.

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They appear to be blind, but they have a spectacular sense of hearing. I mean, they hear just a tiny sound from two apartments away. It’s impressive.

But they do seem to slightly change for convenience. Like they are slower sometimes and faster at others, which seems more to fit with the plot than to actually ascribe to a particular set of zombie rules. However, the zombie apocalypses does seem more like a backdrop to the focus on the main character.

Ending – Spoiler Alert!

I was really happy with the ending. I was worried it would be sad, because Korean dramas just love tragedy, but it was really uplifting. Joon Woo and Yu Bin escape to the roof of the apartment and right as they are about to be eaten by zombies, a military helicopter comes up, shooting the zombies and rescuing them. A voiceover declares that the disease will be exterminated and humanity brought back.

Conclusion

This movie isn’t as good as Train to Busan, but it is still really enjoyable. I found myself excited to see where it would go, and unable to predict the outcome of most situations. If you go into it expecting a purely action, horror movie, this is not it. It’s pacing in slow, and the focus is on the themes and characters. The zombies are predictable, and there is no explanation to the origins of the virus (as opposed to Train to Busan, which contained a couple hints).

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At only about 1 hour and 40 minutes, it does well to be concise and yet slow. If you enjoy zombie movies, especially those that focus on character, I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy this movie!

Have you heard of this movie or watched it? Does it look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

7 thoughts on “Korean Movie Review: #Alive (new Train to Busan?)

  1. Great review and sounds like a very interesting movie. I am happy to hear and surprised that it focuses on such deeper themes as loneliness and has this deep focus on characters. There should be more of such unconventional horror films because often horror is so unjustly categorised as this “cheap-thrills entertainment” genre and it is capable of delivering so much more.

    Even though I am a movie buff, I know little about zombie movies and Korean film-making apart from such industry heavyweights as Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho. I really need to watch more in that respect – Alive sounds like a great place to begin. The issue here for me though is that though I love horror movies I tend to laugh through zombie films. For example, Shaun of the Dead (2004) was supposed to be funny, but after watching this film I always view zombie films through this prism of comedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zombie movies are usually ridiculous, and this movie does have a few humorous scenes too, but most of it is definitely pretty serious. I was really happy that this movie wasn’t filled with “cheap-thrills.” I’m not expert on Korean film-making either, but I want to watch more as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, Korean director Bong Joon-ho has a horror film about a monster “The Host”(2006), I wonder if you’ve seen it, and if not, I think you may like it. He also has a curious dystopian film “Snowpiercer”, but this one is in English.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought this was the sequel to Train to Busan, so I was pretty confused for the first bit before I discovered that it wasn’t. This was OK for me, nothing that really stood out but still a decent watch.

    Liked by 1 person

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