Double Feature: Seoul Station (2016) & Audition (1999)

Welcome to a Friday edition of Double Feature!

My initial plan at the beginning of the year was that Fridays would be for sharing my dive into Asian cinema (more particularly Hong Kong films) but hey, I’m a fan of all kinds of movies so as I ease back into the Asian cinema world, I’m heading into another Shudder double feature with Audition (1999) recommended to me by my fantastic co-host Elwood and the prequel of one of my favorite zombie movies, Seoul Station. Japanese and Korean double feature. This one is all kinds of different tags for why it works as a double feature already.

I’ve heard good stuff for both of these movies so I’m excited to check them out!

Seoul Station (2016)

seoul station

Director (and writer): Sang-ho Yeon

Voice Cast: Ryu Seung-ryong, Shim Eun-kyung, Lee Joon

Several groups of people try to survive a zombie pandemic that unleashes itself in downtown Seoul. – IMDB

With the massive success of Train to Busan (review), its hard to pass up the prequel that started the story. Seoul Station takes us back to where it all started pretty much. Although, who did bite the poor homeless man? We never will know how it started but Seoul Station focuses on a few people whose lives are intertwined and are escaping for their lives as the people around them are infested and attack the people around them. These clueless characters learn about what the zombies are capable of and that well, they are actually the undead. Seoul Station has its good and bad. Is it quite as good as Train to Busan? No, its pretty far from the tension and the story pacing and characters. However, that isn’t saying that its a particularly bad animated prequel. It does a good job to set the stage of what its successor can go from and builds an understanding of how the zombies in this world work. Of course, there’s still a lot more to learn in Train to Busan as movies like to make zombies evolve.

Seoul Station doesn’t have quite the exceptional characters to love. The main girl is made to be weak and whiny but somehow makes it through a lot of close calls. Her boyfriend that is on a separate area as they track each other time to meet up is pretty useless as well and makes a lot of bad calls and doesn’t have the guts. However, he is paired up with an older man who is tough as nails. There’s a whole story behind this and that leads up to the plot twist at the end. The story is somewhat generic but the twist was a surprise although the final twist was quite predictable. Where I find it excels is in its art. The movement and speed of the zombies have this blur behind it which is a lovely touch added in to make something of a motion blur and that works wonders for the aesthetics and effect. The areas and the zombie itself are creepy to look at. The tone of the movie and the backdrop here are done incredibly well also.

Overall, Seoul Station might not offer a unique zombie story and has its surprises and some rather predictable moments. However, it delivers on its art and visuals in this animated feature. Not quite as memorable as its successor but still worth a watch to lay the foundation for the next film.

Audition (1999)

Audition

Director: Takashi Miike

Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Tetsu Sawaki, Jun Kunimura, Renji Ishibashi, Miyuki Matsuda

A widower takes an offer to screen girls at a special audition, arranged for him by a friend to find him a new wife. The one he fancies is not who she appears to be after all. – IMDB

In many ways, I can see how Audition is a great horror film. In fact, its quite the psychological journey. Messed up and what not the further you dive into the plot. In fact, the ending is so weird that it kind of goes through a confusing phase. I still can’t quit figure out what went on. As psychological as it all was, it was one of those situations that never felt right to begin with. Auditioning for girls for a role that fitted into what this widower wanted, not sure I’m okay with that since it feels pretty contrived and manipulative in the first place. Nothing good comes from that. Then the girl herself was really weird to begin with but apparently Aoyama (played by Ryo Ishibashi) saw something in her.

The story has many layers and to be fair, it works for the most part. I can’t say that I’m the biggest fan of Audition. There are some solid atmosphere here and the pacing is fairly good. The cinematography and sound design is great in boosting the atmosphere. The star of the show probably did have to go to the girl here played by Eihi Shiina who was so creepy and mysterious. The final moments however kind of did it for me. What started out as psychological turned into this torture porn that turned my stomach a little and I’m usually not so easily disturbed by it. If that was the intention, it definitely achieved its goal but for myself, I felt like it didn’t fit in so well.

I can’t quite pinpoint what I felt let me down for Audition but it just didn’t feel like it ever reached the potential before heading in directions I wasn’t too fond of. I do acknowledge it has some great character and a lot of mystery and atmospheric horror. But something just didn’t work completely for myself.

That’s it for this Asian Horror double feature!
I anticipated watching both of these quite a bit but both of them let me down just a little.
I can definitely see their merit but it just wasn’t exactly for me particularly Audition.

Have you seen these two? Thoughts?

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Flesh for the Zombies (short story) by Anthony Renfro

Reading has been a tad slow these days and I’m kind of feeling like I’m cheating on this Goodreads challenge because I’ve been reading a lot of short stories and comics/graphic novels but I guess this does work because its really been a whole new adventure. However, the world is much better in smaller doses especially when I finally got around to checking out Anthony Renfro’s new short story Flesh for the Zombies. For those who don’t know, Anthony is one of us bloggers and he is also a writer. You can find him at Haiku, Poetry and Occasional Hullabaloo and his newer blog, One Writer Ranting. Over the years, Anthony has been great and its always great to get a free copy of his book because I do love his writing a lot. Flesh for the Zombies continues with the story of Mike Beem which is a pretty cool character that has been around for a few short stories already.

Flesh for the Zombies
by: Anthony Renfro

flesh for the zombies

When Mike Beem’s community is savagely attacked, he must exact revenge on those who wronged him. He must put aside all the good he has ever accomplished in order to become someone else. A man without a moral compass. A man without right or wrong. A man who is a cold blooded killer. Will he get his justice or will he die trying? The answers lie within the pages of this short story. – Goodreads

What started with A Zombie Christmas turned into A Zombie Christmas 2 and now we have Flesh for the Zombies which follows a very cool bad-ass with quite a soft heart who makes the best out of a sudden zombie apocalypse. Mike Beem is a great character created by Anthony Renfro for these stories and despite these only being short stories, the events Mike Beem goes through and the way he talks and his actions truly allows the readers to see who he is. With Flesh for the Zombies, the story dives a little deeper as the community he built is not destroyed by a group of people who has taken the zombie apocalypse and gone the different direction of how he chose by making things a living hell and when they choose to destroy his community that he’s built with positivity and create a safe(r) haven for what is going on outside, it turns a side of Mike Beem and makes not only us but the character itself question the limits of his actions especially in the face of hard choices. Its not to say that in the face of a zombie apocalypse there won’t be hard choices even before but the tone of Flesh of the Zombies has matured quite a bit from when we first saw Mike Beem and his desire to bring Christmas from the survivors of his neighborhood. To me, that shows improvement and character depth all of which makes me happy to see that the author has chosen this new path. For those who have read A Zombie Christmas, we already know that the author likes to take a different approach to this zombie apocalypse business and its quite creative. The most impressive part for Flesh for the Zombies is it takes it down a very different path with very intriguing results making this a very fulfilling short story.

Overall, Flesh for the Zombies takes a turn down a deeper and darker path for an impressive character that gives it some character depth. Packed with vivid description and some hard choices for the protagonist to make, this short story is a page turner and one that stands together well with the Mike Beem stories from before, A Zombie Christmas 1 & 2 but also should stand well enough by itself as it is self-contained.

Links to buy the short story (if you are interested)

Fantasia Festival: Train to Busan (2016)

Continuing with a incredibly final showdown in the second consecutive day at Fantasia starts with a late morning screening of the North American premiere of Korean zombie film, Train to Busan. Those of you who know me know that I enjoy zombie films a lot. In fact, they are almost always entertaining to watch. Train to Busan caught our attention immediately and we had to add it into our rundown no matter what. Even if it meant going for the late screening the night before and waking up early to see this, not to mention standing under the scorching morning sun which was nearing 30 degrees Celsius. It was not pleasant but in our hearts, we believed that it would be worth it.

Train to Busan (2016)

Train to Busan

Director: Sang-ho Yeon

Cast: Yoo Gong, Su-an Kim, Dong-seok Ma, Woo-sik Choi, Yu-mi Jeong, Sohee

While a zombie-virus breaks out in South Korea, a couple of passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.-IMDB

Train to Busan is a Korean zombie movie that runs for almost two hours. It is absolutely one of the longer films showing at the festival. Zombies occur after a biotech company leak. It focuses on a self-centered fund manager Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) who after much convincing decides to take his daughter Su-an (Su-an Kim) to Busan for her birthday to his ex-wife. However on his way there, an infected girl ends up crashing into the train right before departure and from there it enters a claustrophobic and dangerous zombie film. At two hours, it is hard to imagine a tightknit movie but Train to Busan is executed extremely well. In fact, it doesn’t rely on jumpscares most of the time. It builds its characters and structures a story around them as they escape and learn about these zombies that have invaded the train.

Train to Busan

Before we head into the meat of this movie and tackle the characters, we have to dive into the zombies in Train to Busan. The zombie design is done really well. At this point, we have to start believing that we have seen everything there is to do with zombies. However, there is nothing tacky about these zombies. They die for a second and contort in a terrifying way into zombie mode right away. They growl and are infected with rage. Certain parts might even remind you of a cross over of World War Z with Zombieland. They have white out eyes and are incredibly vicious and quick. In short, they attack what they see. Anything else is for you to discover when you watch this because that is half of the fun.

Train to Busan

The heart of Train to Busan are the characters. They may act predictable but it proves a point that sometimes well-executed tropes are equally as effective. Our main character is the fund manager (as mentioned before) who has his young daughter with him. His character develops the most, especially his relationship with her. His daughter is worth a mention because she is incredibly talented in her role.  She never is annoying or bratty. In fact, she acts exactly as well as a child would probably act when thrown into this situation. Also, we have a father to be (or as Fantasia’s description calls him a “two-fisted goon”) and his pregnant wife: the righteous hero who also is the humorous guy with his one liners and infectious attitude. His wife creates a wonderful balance for the tact that he lacks. This goon is the absolute highlight of the movie. On the other hand, it highlights the fact that in times of crisis, human nature is a scary thing because the natural instinct of life preservation occurs and people do extremely selfish acts. One character in this whole affair is an absolute piece of garbage. You will know who it is right away and the feelings of hate that he stirs up might be hard to imagine. Along for the ride are some teenagers heading to a baseball tournament and a pair of senior sisters and some of the train crew who make impact on various scenes. If you find yourself cheering for some of these characters, especially the wildly fantastic father to be character, it is normal. We all were at the Fantasia screening also.

Train to Busan

 

However, there is one aspect that fell short: the way it was wrapped up. In fact, it may be the only aspect of this intense zombie film that may drag it down a little.  The ending was being taunted to its audience. It kept seeming like it wanted to end but somehow was playing up to the final scene. At a certain point, it simply felt contrived. While the ending was not bad, it was unnecessarily dragged out to achieve the end results that they desired which may or may  not be perfect. Perhaps, it felt a little too neat for some.

Train to Busan is a gripping and thrilling ride that will have you holding your breath.  It takes you on a claustrophobic and heart pounding adrenaline run with a growing population of terrifying zombies. It tackles human nature, life preservation, struggle for survival with brilliant characters that will make you fear for their lives, cheer them on their bravery and honor and feel sad when the good guys are sacrificed. This is a zombie movie after all. It is inevitable. Despite its contrived ending, Train to Busan is well worth a watch (and many more times after that).

Book Review: Ranger Martin and the Alien Invasion by Jack Flacco

It is my absolute honor that fellow blogger and author Jack Flacco asked me be part of his review team for his new book that will be launched next Tuesday (October 21st) to be the first group to read and review his new novel, Ranger Martin and the Alien Invasion.  This is the sequel of his previous novel launched last year called Ranger Martin and the Zombie Apocalypse.

Jack is a very awesome blogger who has a fantastic blog featuring a few lovely segments like Women Who Wow Wednesday and Freedom Friday and Monday Mayhem. I urge you to check out his blog right HERE!

Ranger Martin and the Alien Invasion

by Jack Flacco

Ranger Martin and the alien invasion

I’m not a huge reader of zombie books.  In fact, I only started last year when I read World War Z and Warm Bodies for their movie adaptations.  And then there Jack first novel which dragged me into this lovely zombie apocalypse world when his main character Ranger Martin was extremely entertaining to watch.  He reminded me a little of the free-spirited, going out of with a bang  personality like Tallahassee in Zombieland.  Of course, as a character in a novel, the development is done better.  With the way things ended in the first one, this second one picks up a little while after as the original group separates due to difference in opinions.

In this world, its already succumbed to the zombie apocalypse except now an unknown entity has invaded them.  No one knows who they are and where they are from but they do know that they are causing a lot of pain and destroying the remaining human life that exists.  What is their plan? No one knows.  Regardless, Ranger Martin has to hold up his responsibility for taking care of the kids that sticks with him and while these entities try to track down one of their members, Randy, he also tries to find them and stop their plans before there isn’t anything and anywhere left for them.

Ranger Martin and the Alien Invasion never really stops.  Unlike the first where there moments to slow down and breath, despite still being extremely eventful this one is non-stop action for the most part.  It also traces different groups: Ranger Martin and his crew, a new group of kids, the military, etc.  We get a perspective of how things are further than just where Ranger Martin is and that gives the readers a wider perspective of the world that Jack has built with the zombie apocalypse.

I have to say that adding aliens to the equation is very smart.  Its not just zombies but now it gets worse when you add in an unknown thing that has unknown capabilities like aliens.  Its a whole different ballpark and it makes for an exciting adventure.  Thats how I felt while I was reading this novel.  It was really fun and the description of how things went down was very vivid that I could get what was going on. Ranger Martin is still a fantastic character and in this one, he gets a deeper development as we get to see a little more of his history and background here and there.  That helps to connect with the character.

The new additions to the book each were good in their own ways.  Some didn’t get a lot of development and some only showed up near the end, however each had their purpose.  The only thing I felt wasn’t done as well was the relationship from last novel’s Matty and Randy.  Except, I wonder if it could be different because there isn’t much time to think about having something more.  Its just sometimes the actions a bit irrational and that was just one part where I felt that way so the impact wasn’t huge.  Plus, it is considered young love as they are just 15 years old and never really quite encountered feelings especially in the situation and environment they are in.

Ranger Martin and the Alien Invasion has a clever premise, doubling the danger of zombies and adding in another layer with aliens, while keep Ranger Martin a memorable character who isn’t going to back down from any situation.  The action is consistent and frequent making this an exciting and at times, intense read.  The characters from the previous books each have a little more development and growth in this one and we learn a little more about them. Although there are little parts that could be polished, it is a step up from the previous book which felt lengthy at parts, which never happens in this one and if it did, I wasn’t frequent enough for me to notice it.  Definitely a great read and I highly recommend it.  Its fun, entertaining and full of action! 🙂

If this interests you, remember to take note that it comes out on October 21st.  Also, remember to check out Jack’s site (which I linked above)!