Double Feature Review: Eat That Question/Train to Busan

by Jason Suzuki

NOTE: This was a self-made double feature. There is no theater currently showing these films in a double-bill. Check your local paper for assurance.

A collage film devoted to channeling the depth and accessibility of an artist most believed to be neither of those things and the zombie film/live action debut from Yeon Sang-ho, the filmmaker behind such dark and uncomfortable works like 2011's The King of Pigs. Between the two is a conflict between individuality and collectivism which makes it a better pair through their differences: doc vs. narrative, individual vs. community, dental floss farmers vs. nondescript corporate types. What make them mesh together in a more positive way is how both films call for the betterment of society and a push away from the lowest common denominator of passivity towards the brainwash that is societal norms. 

Thorsten Schutte's Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words to use the full title, has the distinction of being the Frank Zappa doc to have Moon and Dweezil's seal of approval, unlike the recently Kickstarted Alex Winter doc Who the Fuck is Frank Zappa? which has been given access to Zappa's vault from ZFF head Ahment, all pre-approved by Gail before her death in October of last year. Despite being produced by Gail and Ahmet, Schutte was not given free reign to the vault and because of that most of the footage seen in the film will be familiar to anyone who has searched for Frank related materials on Youtube. What is redeeming about this film though is the creation of a narrative from a true fan of Frank and not a narrative created by the Youtube search function. That narrative is of a man who wanted to be taken seriously as a composer but didn't want to deny any aspect of his personality (the humor) in order to achieve this. This is the recurring motif we begin to see as we go from the Zappa playing the bicycle on the Steve Allen show all the way to the one in love with the synclavier after being burned by the drama of the 88 band. Who is brought back to live performance with the work done for "The Yellow Shark." Zappa was a wealth of knowledge and wit but like the man, the film remembers that what was most important is the music.

Train to Busan is sort of like Snowpiercer with zombies. The setting and the strategy inherent in traversing it when things get hostile along with a strong focus on disparity and social issues link it to the sci-fi exploration of class. Gong Yoo plays a possibly corrupt businessman who reluctantly takes his ignored daughter to her mother's on her birthday. During this trip South Korea is overrun by a virus causing the infected to attack and feast upon anyone in sight. The behavior of most of the survivors aboard the train follows he typical tropes of the zombie film in which the remaining humans are just as dangerous as the walking dead. This idea comes to beautiful fruition late into the film when a moment of "fuck us" is introduced, something I can't say I've ever seen in a zombie film before. Another way this film breaks away from what is now the bland tradition of the zombie flick.

Instead of character types Yeon chooses to define the characters by generational and economic means and from there types can be incorporated (the heavy, the weasel, the child, etc.). In this way it bears a good deal of similarity to Bong Joon-ho's The Host. Both films also share a distrust of authority figures; the news and the government are not to be trusted in either film. A man who shared this distrust, a Zappa artist type is missing from the cast of characters aboard the train. but he most certainly would have been fucked over (see: Warner Bros.). 

Both films showcase the struggle of good-natured people against the plastic people, in the form of senators' wives calling for government intervention of rock music and zombies.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.