Whether it’s a memorable line, an action sequence that takes your breath away or a performance that leaves you speechless, cinema is about moments that stay with you long after the film fades to black. And Train to Busan stays with you.
Those who appreciate horror know full well that quite often the genre isn’t awarded the attention or credit it so richly deserves, which is all the more reason to praise indelible moments whenever and wherever they may materialize.
In that realm, memorable performances are typically reserved for bloodcurdling villains or admirable final girls, but rare are those portrayals that strike an emotional cord. Rarer still are those performances that come from a child.
Harvey Stephens pulled it off in The Omen, as did Danny Lloyd (The Shining), Heather O’Rourke (Poltergeist), Carrie Henn (Aliens), Danielle Harris (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers), Miko Hughes (Pet Sematary) and Kirsten Dunst (Interview with the Vampire). There are more, of course, but it doesn’t need to be explained that all too often in horror, we look back rather than forward. While we laud Linda Blair’s portrayal as Regan in The Exorcist, it would appear that we are hesitant to add something new to that hallowed mix.
And that is why we need to discuss Soo-an Kim.
When it comes to discussion of otherworldly horror performances from a child , if Kim’s name is not on the list, it should be considered invalid. I doubt very seriously that anyone who has seen Train to Busan would disagree.
The youngster’s performance reminded me of Kevin Smith’s comments with regard to Jeff Anderson’s “Please man, don’t leave me” delivery near the conclusion of Clerks II.
“It’s just so fuckin’ real and raw. He didn’t just go there, he was there. And we all went along. It was astounding. He fuckin’ knocked it out of the park, the fuckin’ stadium, the universe. It was just amazing.”
To begin, it’s no small feat for a horror film to tug at the collective heart strings of an audience. To say that such pictures are few are far between would redefine understatement, but make no mistake, Train to Busan is an instant classic that did just that, thanks in no small part to Kim.
The little girl’s performance ranged from guarded to petrified to a crescendo of heartbreaking agony in the span of less than two hours.
From the concept to the writing to the performances of Yoo Gong and Dong-seok Ma, everything about Train to Busan was spot on. It was Kim, though, who elevated the South Korean offering into the stratosphere of the finest zombie films ever produced.
If you’ve yet to see Train to Busan, there are spoilers to follow, so please turn back and remedy that immediately.
For me, memorable performances come down to authenticity. We’re not allowed to forget how difficult and impressive it is for a seasoned, adult actor to achieve validity in a scene built around shattered emotion, let alone a child. However, Kim’s performance in the engine car, begging and finally refusing to let her father go was something to behold.
The performance ventured far beyond Kim’s dialogue. It was not what she was saying, but the way it was communicated. Fear, uncertainty and anguish leapt from her eyes and echoed with every sorrowful syllable that escaped her mouth.
If you were able to get through that scene without at least welling up, you might want to check your pulse. It wrecked me, a man with no children, so I cannot begin to fathom its effect on viewers with little ones.
Though it lacks subtitles, watch the clip below and understand that it was a deliberate decision. Simply watch Kim. Focus on her eyes and facial expressions, the inflection and desperation in her voice and the way she clings to Gong’s shirt sleeve. Take in the emotion of the scene and realize that what Kim is conveying rings true, you don’t need to understand the words to understand that in that moment, her despair is real.
Then remember what Smith said about Anderson, because those same sentiments apply to Kim – she didn’t just go there, she was there.
To say nothing of her tearful rendition of “Aloha Oe” in the tunnel, where a girl so young found such devastating emotion is a mystery, but her discovery made benefactors of us all.
So to the list of elite achievements in horror by a child, we can pencil Soo-an Kim next to Danny Lloyd and Linda Blair. As with her predecessors, Kim’s performance will be celebrated decades from now as one of the most poignant in genre history.