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James Wan Boards the ‘Train to Busan’ Remake

‘Annabelle’ series screenwriter Gary Dauberman re-teams with Wan for a gorier horror adventure than they’re used to.
Train To Busan
By  · Published on September 26th, 2018

Horror icon James Wan is already perpetually busy, yet he still seems to be a glutton for more work. Be it original or reimagined projects, Wan continues to build up a prominent producorial slate at breakneck speed. He is determined to sink his teeth into a large variety of properties across the small and big screen, and most of them are obviously a little on the hellish side.

Wan will extend his commitment to DC post-Aquaman by making the antihero Swamp Thing definitively scary for the company’s in-house streaming service, DC Universe. He will unearth society’s woefully common, deep-seated phobia of spiders by developing an Arachnophobia remake. Wan is even attempting to turn the bloated Stephen King novel “The Tommyknockers” into a movie, despite it being an awful slog of a read on all counts.

And none of these projects include his sprawling horror franchises, namely Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring. The latter has spawned its own ongoing cinematic universe filled with sequels and spinoffs galore that are constantly in development. In actuality, each individual series uniquely solidified Wan’s place in the world of horror. Insidious and The Conjuring particularly paved the way for supernatural-inclined scares to pop up more frequently across his filmography.

But when we take a trip down memory lane and examine Wan’s Saw – the inaugural one that he actually directed – we’ll recall that he has an affinity for the grislier aspects of the horror genre, too.

And that’s why I have faith in his Train to Busan remake. According to Deadline, Wan will again team up with frequent collaborator Gary Dauberman (Annabelle, The Nun) for a redo of one of the coolest and most effective zombie flicks in recent memory. Wan will serve as producer while Dauberman is tasked to pen the script for the film, which seems likely to land at New Line after five studios were initially in the running for its acquisition.

The original Train to Busan was directed by South Korean filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho (The King of Pigs, The Fake), and its premise is relatively simple. A sudden outbreak of a zombie virus has left South Korea in shambles, and on a fateful train ride between Seoul and Busan, all hell breaks loose. Train to Busan isn’t just a mindless riot of blood and guts, though. In fact, the film provides valuable insight into human nature, asking pertinent questions about survival, self-preservation, and sacrifice. It can also be funny as hell and sad as hell, a rollercoaster of a film that never lets up.

Train to Busan was such a hit back in 2016 that an English-language version was quickly commissioned that same year. At first, I wasn’t entirely convinced that this remake would be warranted, especially so soon after the original’s release. Train to Busan is impactful and relatable on its own. The social themes underscoring its narrative make the film powerful and universal without the need for a rehash.

Yet, I’m also willing to give remakes a chance if the right people are hired to make them happen. Wan and Dauberman make a proficient team, and I’m fascinated by what they’ll bring to the table when they take Train to Busan (presumably) Stateside.

Dauberman’s most praiseworthy credits tend to prioritize discernible social dynamics. Annabelle: Creation and IT: Chapter One are much better films than the first Annabelle or The Nun. The familial bonds present in Annabelle: Creation lends emotional weight to the movie’s creepy supernatural proceedings, while IT: Chapter One captivated audiences through the chemistry and camaraderie of the Losers’ Club.

Comparatively, Annabelle and The Nun are untethered origin stories that rely more on the static imagery of their namesakes than any sort of intriguing characterization. Although both films sport a creepy atmosphere, nothing much else anchors the jump scares or raises the stakes in either story.

A great Train to Busan script would need characters for us to root for, despise, and feel conflicted about. Should Dauberman keep this in mind and exercise his knack for deftly balancing both terror and humanity in his screenplays, he’ll do a fine job with the remake.

However, to actually have Wan direct the new Train to Busan could take the film to a whole other level. This redo hasn’t yet secured its helmer, but Wan is a trustworthy filmmaker when it comes to finding true depth in a horror movie.

Kicking off Wan’s career splendidly, Saw is distinctly different from the torture porn movies that eventually succeeded it, because it is fundamentally driven by story rather than outright gore. Wan portrays each of Jigsaw’s “lessons” in a disturbing and erratic fashion that solidly and consistently keeps the tension in the film amped up. And in the absence of fully fleshed out (no pun intended) characters, Wan extracts believable conflict from them that adds to the movie’s frenetic atmosphere.

Wan has only gotten better at creating the ideal horror setting over the years, eventually mastering a character-driven filmmaking technique that can be seen in both the Insidious and The Conjuring movies. These franchises would barely work without audiences becoming invested in Patrick Wilson and his respective onscreen families, which is a testament to Wan’s ability to draw out an actor’s finest performances while continually reveling in his trademark atmospheric scares. He has taken these empathetic filmmaking skills outside the horror genre as well, crafting bittersweet compassion in Furious 7.

Hence, I want to see what Dauberman can do with the quirky yet sympathetic characters of Yeon’s original Train to Busan, and would love to witness Wan’s directorial take on it. There’s something about this gritty zombie film with a big heart that both speaks to Wan’s filmmaking sensibilities and offers a new subgenre of horror for him to experiment in (he’s never done zombies before). If I was skeptical about this remake before, those feelings are much more tempered now.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)